We are not our brothers’ keepers
When discussing world politics, a sense of perspective is needed. While our North American and European countries seem to be rather average in our eyes, they are, for the most part, the richest and freest countries in the world. Almost all the countries in other regions lie below the 10 000 $ line of GDP per capita, which is far below what we, in our great arrogance, consider “the poverty line”.
Who is to blame for this state of affairs, if anyone ? The universal answer seems to be “the rich countries”, and “corporate exploitation”. After all, or so goes the general mentality, everyone should be equally prosperous, since prosperity is some form of automatic, quasi-magical thing. If this is the case, then rich countries must be somehow responsible. We must stop exploiting their citizens, forgive their debts, civil rights abuses, and so on.
But this is primitive reasoning. Prosperity does not come magically, by the mere fact of having natural resources, or industries. It can only exist where civil and economic rights exist. If the citizens of a country cannot administrate their resources as they see fit, and use these resources as they see fit, the economy suffers proportionally. This has been proven deductively and statistically.
Given that fact, what can we say about world poverty ? Is it the fault of a person in North America if a government in Africa imposes a not-so-benevolent dictatorship on its people ? Surely not. To cry “why isn’t the Western world doing anything ?” is sheer denial of reality – irrational actions such as forgiving debts or foreign aid only serve to sustain dictatorships. Change must proceed from inside first. A broken engine will not work even if you pour a hundred liters of fuel in it.
In response, anti-capitalists usually propose that “corporate exploitation” in Third-World countries is responsible for poverty. They quote statistics about sweatshops and environmental destruction. But once again, they are escaping the basic fact of politics : nothing happens without rights.
The countries in which these things take place are, by definition, fraught with incapable governments, otherwise they would not be permitted. In such a situation, trying to pin moral blame on corporations is incorrect. The reason for this can be easily explained in terms of resource flows.
The only way out is the way of freedom of self-ownership, action and property. Only then is man free to pursue his interest, and the whole of society to benefit.
As I explain in my article “Good greed and bad greed”, we can analyze a political system in terms of flows and their advantages. Individuals can trade with each other, attempt to use the government’s political power in order to impose choices on the community, or use violence against each other.
Thus we compare trade benefits and political pressure benefits. The bigger term indicates which category of action is more beneficial for the individual, and therefore what his actions will be oriented towards.
In a free society, rights are recognized and the state does not yield considerable power besides the enforcment of these rights. Therefore wasting energy to try to influence political power is futile. People will tend to trade with each other instead, especially since such societies will tend to be more prosper.
In a statist society, rights are not recognized, and the state decides on the course of action. Therefore it yields enormous power. Foreign corporations can then bribe this government into accepting various criminal activities. This is in their interest because the benefits of political pressure are far higher than trade benefits, especially in poor countries where the people do not have many resources to trade with.
While it is important to pin blame when necessary, this is not one of those cases. You cannot morally fault someone for doing things in his own self-interest. It is not the role of corporations to regulate society (indeed, that would be as corporatist). That role belongs to the government.
To make an analogy, suppose that we expunge all murder laws. It is highly likely that more people will murder others, since the cost for doing so is reduced considerably. While they do commit the action, the greater incidence of murder must be morally imputed to the parties that enacted the political action.
Despite the spurious claims of anti-capitalists, the opening up of trade barriers cannot be anything but progressist. As any college student who took at least one economics class can tell you, raising the demand for workers necessarily raises salaries. This is a simple law of supply and demand. Why do they think that civilized countries use protectionism ? Because it advantages the local corporations, who can then give lower salaries and field inferior products. This is well-known, but has still not reached their fermented ideology.
But in the end, such an opening cannot be fruitful without freedom. The only way out is the way of freedom of self-ownership, action and property. Only then is man free to pursue his interest, and the whole of society to benefit.