Trading Places

by Chris Sturr | October 21, 2008

And, from Ha-Joon Chang (whose new book Mark Engler will review in a forthcoming edition of D&S), a fine piece on trade and the likely victims of the crisis. From The Guardian:


The economics of hypocrisy

After implementing the largest government bail-out in history, the US continues to tell other nations, “do as I say, not as I do”

Ha-Joon Chang
guardian.co.uk,
Monday October 20 2008 14.00 BST

in July, the Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky famously denounced the $200bn nationalisation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage lenders, as something that can only happen in a “socialist” country like France.
France was bad enough, but now Senator Bunning’s beloved country has turned into the Evil Empire itself. The US government is using $700bn of taxpayers’ money to buy up the “toxic assets” choking up the financial system and — horror of the horrors — partially nationalising the US banking system.

President George Bush, however, did not see things quite that way. Announcing the bail-out package, he argued that, rather than being “socialist”, the plan was simply a continuation of the American system of free enterprise, which “rests on the conviction that the federal government should interfere in the market place only when necessary”. Obviously, in his view, nationalising a huge chunk of the financial sector was one of those “necessary” things.

Bush’s statement is not only an ultimate example of political doublespeak — one of the biggest state interventions in history is dressed up as another workday market process — but it also reveals America’s long-standing pragmatism towards the free market. Throughout history, Americans have supported the free market when it suits them but not when it doesn’t.

Today, the US is the self-proclaimed defender of free trade and free finance, but in the days when it was struggling to catch up with Europe, it resorted to the most blatant kinds of protectionism both in trade and finance.

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