Wednesday, March 31, 2004

HOW DOES ROBERT SAMUELSON DO IT?


This man is so ill-informed it hurts, and yet he enjoys regular columns in two of the most widely influential print outlets in the country: the WaPo and Newsweek.

How do I debunk thee, let me count the ways...

Samuelson begins with an apologia for China's egregious human rights violations. "What repressive labor practices?" Samuelson asks. Are these not similar conditions to those endured by American workers in the United States' late-19th century industrialization? Well, yes, but only if you ignore the rampant prevalence of forced prison labor, the "re-education-through-labor" camps where inmates are contracted out to private enterprises or made to work in prison-owned factories, human trafficking, children forced to work in factories attached to their schools, etc., etc. If you ignore all that, then the situation in China is very similar to what happened to American workers around the turn of the century (notwithstanding the fact that such abuses have since led the world community to sanctify human and worker rights in the ILO, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article XX of the WTO).

While Samuelson concedes there may be human rights abuses in China's export economy, he writes: it is also true that China's economic liberalization has been a vast engine of human progress.

In citing statistics to support up this claim, Samuelson demonstrates he commands precious little knowledge of Chinese history.

Samuelson's evidence: Life expectancy increased from 61.7 years in 1970 to 71 in 2002.

Has Samuelson never heard of the Cultural Revolution, when Mao fomented public upheaval (a revolution on a revolution) between 1966 and 1976, resulting in the killing of tens if not hundreds of thousands of Chinese. It should be no surbrise that life expectancy in 1970 might be pretty low for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the level of tariffs and capital controls maintained in China.

Samuelson's evidence: expanded trade has lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty.

Was this because of expanded trade, or because Chinese domestic policy explicitly targeted poverty alleviation through a number of phases of massive public spending since 1978?

At this point in, Samuelson feels he has thoroughly disarmed critics who might kvetch about the abhorrent conditions endured by Chinese workers. So what if the US economy lost 797,000 jobs due to slave labor in China? These jobs are just a drop in the bucket: They're equal to less than 1 percent of total U.S. employment, about 4 percent of manufacturing jobs in 2000 or about three months' job growth in the late 1990s.

Okay Robert, let's pick the appropriate benchmark. One might be inclined to compare the number of American jobs lost to human rights violations in China to the number of jobs lost to, say, import penetration and competition in foreign markets (a little over 3 million)...or perhaps even the number of jobs lost since the manufacturing slump began in 1998 (also, a little over 3 million). Then we would see that 797,000 jobs is a substantial chunk of change.

So you see, in conclusion, if you ignore and contort all the evidence from China (as Samuelson has done) you cannot respectably argue against the fact that: open trade still enjoys the high moral ground [and] remains a proven path to human betterment.

Ipso facto.

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