Upside to Suicide

by Don Boudreaux on February 7, 2009

in Seen and Unseen, Standard of Living, Trade

New York Times columnist Floyd Norris argues that there is "an upside to resisting globalization."  It is this: economies unintegrated into the global economy aren't very much subject to global-economy downturns.

To be sure, Mr. Norris is correct.  But the Times should be consistent and have, say, one of its medical reporters write about the upside to suicide.  Suicide's practitioners, after all, inoculate themselves against all future illnesses.

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Kevin February 7, 2009 at 9:09 am

The ability of humans to take things for granted is stunning.

Idle Pen Pusher February 7, 2009 at 9:21 am

Ha! Very true…

Jason O February 7, 2009 at 10:22 am

I am always amazed by the amount of ignorance shared by the mob mentality. Meaning how some mass media agents have been able to convince the general public (the mob) of such outrageous ideas.

Trade is good, that is the long and short story. Protectionist behavior destroys wealth. I wish someone would get on the TV or write a news article about hom much better off everyone is from several decades of more open trade policy in the world.

The news and out new President are constatntly saying things have never been this bad since the depression, although, the forget to mention that everyone is better off now than they have ever been in history.

In my opinion it is extremely difficult to compare 2008 or 2009 to 1928 or 1934 or any time in between. To illustrate my point, between 1928 and 1934, there was not a single person in the entire world who was reading a Blog. The Obvious question now is does blogging and computers make us better off? Well I say "yes." Many people displaced from work or in career transition today are earning at least a minimal income from E-commerce through firms like Amazon and E-bay, so they are all better off.

LoneSnark February 7, 2009 at 10:29 am

Would it not also bear pointing out that making yourself immune to global-economic downturns does not make you immune to downturns. At the same time, being globally integrated does curtail your own local downturns by allowing trade to smooth it out.

So if we ignore the efficiency gains from trade, a difficult prospect, the only real question would be the comparative frequency and severity of downturns. That said, the U.S. is more integrated today compared to pre-1990s and yet downturns are both less frequent and less severe.

Mesa Econoguy February 7, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Is Floyd Norris a theater critic, too?

TrUmPiT February 7, 2009 at 12:37 pm

I like getting tasty grapes and peaches from Chile in January, but I object to buying tainted dog food made with a Chinese toxic additive (added by greedy businessmen) that kills my dog, and tainted milk products that destroy my kidneys and my children's too. Killing elephants for ivory trinkets and jewelery should remain illegal as well as a ban on whaling. Where is the outrage? Stuff made with slave labor or anything approximating it shouldn't be for sale here. Buying products made without regard for the environment should be resisted. Sentient animals shouldn't be tested on in a harmful way. That's more human arrogance, selfishness, and brutality. An integrated global market should mean more than what you think it does in terms of basic standards of cleanliness, safety, etc. Chinese air pollution travels across the Pacific ocean and lands in Los Angeles and many other places making us sick beyond our recognition of the actual cause. If our food supply is produced solely in distant places rather than locally then we can be devastated by a disruption in the supply by terrorism, unforeseen weather events, or political blackmail. The same thing goes double for our importation of oil. I remember the oil embargo during the 70's and the long lines around the block at gas stations as well as rationing. Funny how our collective memory is so sadly short to our continuing detriment. A doctor who implants eight embryos in a woman who plans on carrying them all to term should lose his license to practice medicine and should be ridiculed by everyone. Ethics matter in every human endeavor. Why aren't they taught in the first grade?

Sam Grove February 7, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Killing elephants for ivory trinkets and jewelery should remain illegal…

Poaching them becomes a profitable endeavor.

OTH, there is no shortage of cows, pigs, chickens, etc.

Why have these resources not been depleted?

TrUmPiT February 7, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Not everything is a "resource" to be exploited by humans. Elephants and whales are in that category. Human exploit each other. Isn't that enough for you? I know the answer from you is "no." So, you need to be exploited to teach you a lesson. Maybe a big tax called the Sam Anti-Exploitative Tax needs to be part of the stimulus package. The incidence of the tax needs to fall only on the exploiters and their supporters, like you.

kebko February 7, 2009 at 2:16 pm

Starving to death because the 1,000 sq. miles surrounding you experiences a dought is kind of a bummer, but at least you were worry free when everyone else was worrying about the performance of their 401(k)s & wondering how to pay the bills for their internet service & cell phones.

Bob Smith February 7, 2009 at 4:01 pm

Not everything is a "resource" to be exploited by humans. Elephants and whales are in that category.

Why? I see no essential moral difference between "exploiting" a cow and "exploiting" a whale.

Sam Grove February 7, 2009 at 4:30 pm

You might read Simon's The Ultimate Resource.

Everything that has value can be viewed as a resource. My skills are my resource.

It has been found that treating elephants as a valuable resource reduces the scarcity of elephants.

Why? Because there are plenty of people who do value ivory (I possess none) and making it illegal to trade and own ivory has led to a depletion of elephants by poaching.

OK, so you don't want to view them as a resource?

That makes no difference to poachers and ivory lovers. Even legal sanctions have failed to stop the ivory trade. And if the law succeeds in restricting supply, the price goes up. Poachers have no incentive to harvest ivory without killing elephants, but elephant ranchers have such an incentive. Tusks grow.

TrUmPiT February 7, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Why? I see no essential moral difference between "exploiting" a cow and "exploiting" a whale.

You forgot to add "or a human, for that matter." Then stop exploiting cows, as well. Befriend a bovine instead.
Must you eat so high up on the food chain. Try yogurt with apples and raisins. You may die from the cumulative negative affects of BigMacs(tm). Whales and elephants are highly intelligent social animals. Humans are supposed to be the way, too. I'll believe that when I see them acting that way. (So I don't believe it.)

Doug February 7, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Closed economies can be more stable…stably lame.

How do you think the Amish are handling this crisis? Perhaps they benefit from more stabability. However, I'll take my crisis with pleasure over riding in a horse and buggy till the end of time.

RickC February 7, 2009 at 6:23 pm


What Sam Grove and Bob Smith said is absolutely true. And I offer the following as proof.

There has been an ongoing program in several African countries where the local governments, in coordination with wildlife agencies, assigned ownership of the elephant herds to area villagers. It was a new attempt at stemming the explosion of poaching and the illegal ivory trade. Poaching decreased almost immediately and the local herds have been slowly recovering. So much so that in some areas of South Africa today they are discussing having to cull the herds.

Christopher Renner February 7, 2009 at 6:53 pm

Trumpit: If our food supply is produced solely in distant places rather than locally then we can be devastated by a disruption in the supply by terrorism, unforeseen weather events, or political blackmail. The same thing goes double for our importation of oil. I remember the oil embargo during the 70's and the long lines around the block at gas stations as well as rationing. Funny how our collective memory is so sadly short to our continuing detriment.

It's unlikely to the point of irrelevance that terrorists could significantly interfere with our food supply even if they decided to target it. The Germans and British couldn't starve each other in World War I and they had massive navies to target commercial shipping. Distressing as the thought of explosives on a ship or other contaminants might be, it's not going to starve America.

As for weather events, isn't it better to have multiple sources of food and avoid the vulnerabilities of domestic droughts, etc.?

As to political blackmail – how can a country possibly do this with food, outside of a full-scale war like I mentioned?

You're inadvertently arguing for more free markets by mentioning the gas lines, incidentally. Germany and Japan had no shortages of gasoline in the 1970s and they had no domestic reserves to speak of. The difference was their lack of price controls on retail gasoline.

Arani Chakrabarty February 8, 2009 at 1:25 am

While I wouldn't want to step into a discussion about the merits or demerits of globalisation, I would point out that the suicide analogy doesn't really demonstrate a fact (or a refutation of what Norris says.)

Call it avoiding a dangerous road to prevent ghastly accidents. Or not going to a hospital with a bad reputation to have your child delivered. Analogies are, really, meaningless.

Mezzanine February 8, 2009 at 5:58 am

I don't think that isolationist would argue that 100% isolationism would be a huge reduction in the standard of living. That IS the point, they believe our current economic system is morally flawed and reducing our wealth is a GOOD thing to them. Stop talking about the technical aspects of economics, and start realizing that we are in a battle of competing moralities here.

Murali February 8, 2009 at 6:42 am

The isolationist fails to realise that a vast reduction in our material standard of living does not result in some strange communitarian agrarian paradise. Instead, it means that life become hard, brutish and short – much shorter than it is now. Without sufficient supplies of electricity, (using oil and other resources we have to trade for) how are we going to maintain the machines we need to support life? How is life going to be when 60% of women will die sometime during childbirth because they cannot trade with other countries for medical supplies. How about when 70% of children do not make it out of childhood. Why do you think that in the 18th century the lower classes would have 9 – 10 children while the upper classes only had 2 – 3. A low tech community is terrible. There is nothing liberal or progressive about economic isolationism. Isolationism is regressive (people become poorer and the real costs are felt by the poor far more than the rich) it is jingoistic and reactionary (things all true liberals must reject.) and (to be particularly snarky), it is far more in character of conservative principles than any true liberal principles. Free trade, is the life blood of a healthy society. Any true humanitarian, would want to promote free trade so that the technologies and knowledge of the developed world will spread to the developing nations. Free trade more than any other action will improve the lives of the poorest of all societies. Isolationists, whatever you call youselves, make me sick.

Gil February 8, 2009 at 7:14 am

Ramping up the melodramatics Murali?

"Egads! Did you know that in the Medieval Era the world population was around 500 million!? That means if we went to Medieval Lifestyle then 6,000 million or more people would die!! That's a world population loss of over 90%!!"

Seriously how was life in times of yore necessarily that brutish? There was plenty of art, architecture, literature, philosphy, etc. Or, if life was that brutish, how did people escape that lifestyle and why we are not living a Medieval style of living? If people were brutish then they chose to be and when people stopped being generally brutish, things got better. Maybe if African rulers stopped their brutish lifestyles then maybe Africa would modernise but it continues to languish until then.

Gil February 8, 2009 at 7:15 am

Come to think of it – many people of the New World were quite healthy until Western explorer found them and brought Western diseases with them. Many island people, such as Tahiti, were very healthy until the arrival of the Western seafarers.

vikingvista February 8, 2009 at 7:22 am

Failure to account for (or even acknowledge the existence of) costs of social policy is one of the great tragedies of our age, having led to the deaths of tens of millions of people, and loss of inestimable potential.

Murali February 8, 2009 at 8:48 am

Gil, lets be more serious. Singapore is an island nation with a total population (including foreigners) of about 4 million. Moreover, we have a total land area comparable to New York City. We have few natural resources, no hinterland, no rural area and very few area whih could actually be called sub-urban. In Singapore asking people to eat locally grown food is asking them to starve. Without free trade, singapore would not be able to support its population, and probably would implode as it owuldnt be able to maintain independance too. But why talk about singapore only? the history of southeast asia is one where an increase in free trade has seen an increase in prosperity for all. Where there is plenty of evidence that closed borders (burma) result in stagnation and abject poverty. We open our borders, we invite MNCs and big businesses and we benefit. Eventually, our locals accumulate enough capital that they start striking out on their own.

Reducing foreign trade ins unsustainable anywhere. The only reason society managed to pull itself out of the dark ages was because of liberalised trade and conquest. Westerners plundered the east keeping it in relative poverty. It is only through trade that we have managed to catch up. It is because of a lack of trade that burma is suffering, that the soviet union collapsed. It was only after China opened its borders that it started to grow by leaps and bounds.

Murali February 8, 2009 at 8:54 am

Check this out. link

Our normal unemployment is at 2.2%, as low as 1.7% on good years. It can possibly go as high as 4% – what the US rate is on good years.

Idle Pen Pusher February 8, 2009 at 11:54 am

"How do you think the Amish are handling this crisis?"

Excellent point, Dave!

Mezzanine February 8, 2009 at 5:56 pm

vikingvista – one could argue that 3rd world totalitarianism helps keep population in check. After all isn't overpopulation a problem?

Mezzanine February 8, 2009 at 5:59 pm

The Amish actually have a different philosophy on life. For them, having 2000sq modern houses, electronic gadgets and vacations to Marseilles are of no import. So their relative poverty is not an issue for them. Also they have a self sustaining economic model, they can basically survive without any trade.

Gil February 8, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Indeed Mezza. They could only be considered poor in a relative sense.

Mezzanine February 8, 2009 at 9:59 pm

The Amish would tell us that we are the poor ones spiritually so reliant on our modern knick-knacks. I honestly can't say they are incorrect.

brotio February 9, 2009 at 12:32 am

In stark contrast to Mierduck and friends, the Amish also don't seem too inclined to impose their beliefs on others.

Hammer February 9, 2009 at 9:09 am

"Also they have a self sustaining economic model, they can basically survive without any trade."

Do you live around the Amish? They are quite active traders, amongst themselves as well as with everyone else. Around central PA it is very common to see Amish contractors putting up buildings and repairing them, Amish shops selling house wares and food, as well as the ubiquitous Amish quilts and furniture. My folks live down the road from an Amish family with quite the kennel business.

The Amish (and related groups such as Mennonites etc.) eschew unecessary technology and convenience, not trade.

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