The Tragedy of Protectionism

Dr. Hosty, my high school English literature teacher, once said that he had seen Othello on the stage many times but had no intention to see the play performed again. It is too depressing. One can see the cogs turning in Othello’s mind that lead inevitably to the deadly conclusion of the play. Such is the nature of tragedy.

In the aftermath of the 1929 crash, there was the Smooth-Hawley Tariff Act. This raised import duty on thousands of products — bare-faced protectionism. The international response, predictably enough, was retaliatory trade tariffs against the USA. This increased the length and misery of the Great Depression.

Iceland’s banks are collapsing and British savers’ money is at risk. The list of councils with money at risk is long. Gordon Brown is threatening to use anti-terrorism legislation to freeze Icelandic assets in Britain in order to recover the money.

In the current credit crisis, I believe that we are seeing protectionism of a different, less explicit kind. Protectionism drives away foreign investment because it’s less attractive to run a company in a country where one is forced to buy goods and services locally rather than buying the globally optimal ones (which may be the local ones).

There can be few deterrents more certain against foreign investment than the threat of government expropriation of foreign assets. Iceland has invested heavily in the UK. Will Gordon Brown’s actions drive further investment away? We shall see.

The reason that I refer to this as a tragedy is that it appears that Gordon Brown does not have much choice in the matter. He has to try to protect the deposits of British savers and councils; one cannot simply roll over for that amount of cash. However, the money lost may be dwarfed by the repercussions.

Blatantly Misleading Headline in Guardian

I sometimes wonder if anyone can read the Guardian without cringing:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/…

The headline presents the Tories as anti-multicultural but the comments of Dominic Grieve could not be interpreted in that way by anyone who read the article.

The sad part is that Guardianistas lap this sort of filth up and believe it sincerely. A few minutes perusing the comments left by readers on any article that mentions the current Conservative lead in the polls, and you’re sure to find some reference to St. Margaret’s statement about there being ‘no such thing as society’. Anyone who took the trouble to read Mrs T’s statement might be surprised to find that she was not advocating donning an Armani suit and racking up some charlie whilst the forgotten bootless millions wept on the street. She was in fact telling people something similar to Kennedy’s exhortation in his inaugural address about how one ought to ‘ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country’. No one ever calls JFK a scoundrel for saying that. An individual’s sense of responsibility has to outweigh that of entitlement for society to work.

Snippets of Latin

I’m currently reading Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.

I find the text very interesting and feel that a lot of the content pertains to open source software. Repeatedly, Burke argues for gradual improvements to existing systems that have been constructed over time and shaped by actual demands rather than sudden revolutions of men of ideas but little experience. At its best, the open source movement offers software that has evolved in the gradual way, with bugs eroded over time. Something that attracts me to free software more greatly recently is that it can’t be taken off the market. Microsoft have stopped selling XP, sort of. I don’t want to be forced to move Vista. The designers of the original UNIX probably never thought that that OS would still be in such widespread use in the 21st century but here we are. Are there better systems? No doubt. Do I want to “upgrade” all my servers to anything else? Not on your nelly.

Of course, many in the open source movement might see themselves more like the revolutionaries, sweeping away a corrupt monopoly and replacing that with a free utopia. Reality doesn’t reflect that. Where the advocates of free software have presented themselves this way, they have succeeded the least.

A problem that I have encountered whilst reading has been translating the frequent quotations in Latin. Although I studied Latin for six years at school, I can’t remember much more than to parrot off “Bellum, Bellum, Bellum”. A typical problem of a language education focussed almost exclusively on syntax. I cut and paste the sentences into google but more often than not the only results returned are other copies of “Reflections” (of which there are plenty).

Does anyone know of a good repository of Latin quotations? It could make quite an interesting CRUD page (e.g. quotation, original text, original author, texts in which it appears, possible translations, votes for translations and so on). But I don’t want to build such a page as I don’t know enough Latin and I’m sure that something similar must exist already.

Stupid Censors

I can’t believe that the lawyers at Julius Baer thought that they would be able to make this work:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7250916.stm

It took me about three seconds to get to this site, in spite of the DNS injunction:

http://66.102.9.104/search?q=cache:cKzgBuIMp6UJ:www.wikileaks.org/wiki/Camp_Delta_Standard_Operating_Procedure
http://88.80.13.160/wiki/Wikileaks.org_under_injunction

I’d never heard of the site before or Julius Baer. I have now. Many people will be in the same position.

Bit of an own goal for the Julius Baer lawyers, if you ask me.