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Undercover Capitalist Update

I've been going undercover for about a month now, attending a weekly environmentalist circle-jerk anti-globalization discussion group. The discussion this week confirmed some of my suspicions about the environmentalism movement.

Session 4 was "Food in the Global Marketplace," which included topics like the trend of larger corporate farms putting small family farms out of business, genetic engineering scaremongering, and urges to purchase locally instead of feeding the global trade behemoth.

Session 6, "Social Equity," discussed the plight of the poor in Haiti, the inequality of income distribution, and the movement of manufacturing overseas to take advantage of cheap labor in sweatshop conditions.

The environmentalist and socialist movements have made an alliance against their shared enemy, capitalism. Hence the popular pejorative "watermelon" — describing someone who is green on the outside, but pink on the inside.

In the readings and in the discussions, the environmentalist component is stronger than the socialist one, but both are palpable. Session 4 was environmentalist, session 6 was socialist, and both were a lot of fun for an undercover procapitalist radical like myself.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian president, blames capitalism for the fact that his people are poor and blames cheap imported food for the fact that his people are starving. Two-thirds of Haiti's active work force are employed in subsistence agriculture yet the country is a food importer. By contrast, only 2% of U.S. employment is in agriculture yet we are the world's preeminent food exporter.

If small farms are so good, why do they produce so little? I advised the group that the best way for Haiti to feed its people would be to emulate the United States. (I stopped right there, not elaborating, because that would have blown my cover.) The implication, of course, is that the modern agricultural technologies and techniques so hated by the environmentalists are in fact the most productive. The tension within environmentalism between concern for the poor and concern for nature is well-known. It is their basic contradiction.

In the 1980s, when Haiti opened its markets to U.S. food imports, the need for subsistence farming would have dramatically fallen and that enormous portion of the Haitian labor pool would have become available for other uses. It was an opportunity for economic development. Aristide reports that this economic development did not occur. Does it follow that trade — the creator of that opportunity — deserves the blame? Or might there be other factors involved that are responsible for the failure of development?

The examples typically given to argue that trade fails are places afflicted with corruption. Of course trade fails there — even direct aid fails under those circumstances! While I believe it is very easy to show a causal connection between corruption and poor economic performance, the anti-globalizers do nothing but show a correlation between trade and poverty and think their case is sufficiently argued. To begin with they've chosen a very bad sample, because the vastly greater trade between and economic performance of (say) Japan and the United States is a data point they do not attempt to explain. The ultimate problem is that they do not argue causality. They do not seem to be theoretically-minded at all.

One of these days I'll ask the simple question, "Why does nature have intrinsic value?" I expect they'll have nothing intelligent to say.

Tiny Island