Sunday, January 27, 2008

Two Lies That Need To Die

I'm listening to this week's Bill Moyer's Journal (the show that the PBS Ombudsman calls "the gift that keeps on giving").

This week's episode is titled "John Grisham," and Grisham is one of the few fiction authors I enjoy, so I thought I might actually be able to stomach this week's episode. Well -- I'm 9 minutes into the episode, and no Grisham yet. But Moyers has been going (and on, and on) about how Bush lied us into war and how the economy is tanking because our jobs are going offshore.

And that leads me to: two lies that need to die:

  1. Bush lied; people died.

    I'd like to be able to roll my eyes when I see this on a bumper sticker. I can't though because it seems that the entire far left honestly, and passionately, believes this (as does, apparently, Bill Moyers).

    Moyer's latest rant on this was inspired by the fact that someone has apparently compiled a list of every "lie" Bush and his administration told leading up to the war. I'm sure this will only add to the "Bush lied, people died" hysteria.

    Let's get a couple things straight. One, it's not unreasonable to objectively look at how we got into Iraq. But I would invite people still suck ruminating on this to move out of 2003 into 2008.

    Two, there is an implication in the statement that Bush intended to see people die. I think most people, if they consider that notion objectively, will conclude Bush didn't actually set out with the goal of killing thousands of Iraqis and US military service members. The problem is that I don't think most people actually think this through rationally.

    And three, Bush didn't lie. To have lied, he must have made statements he knew to be false with the intention of misleading. Bush's statements were based on national intelligence. That intelligence, tragically, wound up being faulty. But Bush did not go out and say things he believed to be un-true with the intention to deceive. Now, granted, Bush did cherry pick what he shared with the American people, but unless you want to call criminal prosecutors "liars" as well, you can't twist that into lying.

  2. Job outsourcing is destroying the economy.

    It's unfortunate when someone gets laid off. I'll grant that. An individual who gets laid off has to find a new job, perhaps learn a new set of skills, has to figure out how to stay afloat financially while searching for the new job, etc., etc. But, lay-offs are not a.) unfair, nor are the b.) bad for the economy.

    Lay offs done rationally, and I assume almost all are done rationally, with a solid business case behind them, are done because the cost of keeping the person employed is either greater than the value they produce for the company or the value they can produce for the company can be done by someone else for a much lower cost. What would be unfair would be to tell companies "you can't have this job done by someone for $5,000/year; you must keep paying this person $50,000/year to do it!".

    Furthermore, the economics behind layoffs and outsourcing jobs overseas is precisely what keeps the economy moving forward. It's the law of comparative advantage at work. It's why the overwhelming majority of Americans don't have to worry about starving to death. It's why the overwhelming majority of Americans can afford to have free time watch television in the evenings. It's why I can afford to spend time ranting on a blog.

    I'll conclude by quoting a recent Steve Landsburg New York Times editorial (which happens to slam both Romney and McCain, but rightly so):

    In the days before Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary in Michigan, Mitt Romney and John McCain battled over what the government owes to workers who lose their jobs because of the foreign competition unleashed by free trade. Their rhetoric differed — Mr. Romney said he would “fight for every single job,” while Mr. McCain said some jobs “are not coming back” — but their proposed policies were remarkably similar: educate and retrain the workers for new jobs.

    All economists know that when American jobs are outsourced, Americans as a group are net winners. What we lose through lower wages is more than offset by what we gain through lower prices. In other words, the winners can more than afford to compensate the losers. Does that mean they ought to? Does it create a moral mandate for the taxpayer-subsidized retraining programs proposed by Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney?

    Um, no. Even if you’ve just lost your job, there’s something fundamentally churlish about blaming the very phenomenon that’s elevated you above the subsistence level since the day you were born. If the world owes you compensation for enduring the downside of trade, what do you owe the world for enjoying the upside?

    I doubt there’s a human being on earth who hasn’t benefited from the opportunity to trade freely with his neighbors. Imagine what your life would be like if you had to grow your own food, make your own clothes and rely on your grandmother’s home remedies for health care. Access to a trained physician might reduce the demand for grandma’s home remedies, but — especially at her age — she’s still got plenty of reason to be thankful for having a doctor.

    Some people suggest, however, that it makes sense to isolate the moral effects of a single new trading opportunity or free trade agreement. Surely we have fellow citizens who are hurt by those agreements, at least in the limited sense that they’d be better off in a world where trade flourishes, except in this one instance. What do we owe those fellow citizens?

    One way to think about that is to ask what your moral instincts tell you in analogous situations. Suppose, after years of buying shampoo at your local pharmacy, you discover you can order the same shampoo for less money on the Web. Do you have an obligation to compensate your pharmacist? If you move to a cheaper apartment, should you compensate your landlord? When you eat at McDonald’s, should you compensate the owners of the diner next door? Public policy should not be designed to advance moral instincts that we all reject every day of our lives.

    In what morally relevant way, then, might displaced workers differ from displaced pharmacists or displaced landlords? You might argue that pharmacists and landlords have always faced cutthroat competition and therefore knew what they were getting into, while decades of tariffs and quotas have led manufacturing workers to expect a modicum of protection. That expectation led them to develop certain skills, and now it’s unfair to pull the rug out from under them.

    Once again, that argument does not mesh with our everyday instincts. For many decades, schoolyard bullying has been a profitable occupation. All across America, bullies have built up skills so they can take advantage of that opportunity. If we toughen the rules to make bullying unprofitable, must we compensate the bullies?

    Bullying and protectionism have a lot in common. They both use force (either directly or through the power of the law) to enrich someone else at your involuntary expense. If you’re forced to pay $20 an hour to an American for goods you could have bought from a Mexican for $5 an hour, you’re being extorted. When a free trade agreement allows you to buy from the Mexican after all, rejoice in your liberation — even if Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney and the rest of the presidential candidates don’t want you to.

Bush didn't lie.
Outsourcing jobs overseas helps us.
Let's move on.

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