Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Come Over and Help Us

RWA1's first response on Facebook to the disaster in Japan was to link to a post by the notorious right-wing economist Amity Shlaes, titled "Four Ways the U.S. Can Help Japan, Also Itself." "A free market look at help," RWA1 calls it. Well, no.

Her first recommendation is for the US to "stop being a prissy multilateralist" with regard to trade.
Now is the time to forget about fairness and just say, “Come on in, guys,” with or without trade concessions.
Hahahahaha. And she follows that up, two sentences later, with this knee-slapper:
If the Japanese are behind in learning the value of free trade, let them learn by watching the U.S. example.
Hahahahaha again. Shlaes is a bit vague about what her one-liners actually mean, though. She quotes a former Bush II official "and now vice chairman at Citigroup" who says "It’s time for Japan to have a free-trade agreement with the U.S. and to be in the Transpacific Partnership." I guess she wants the US (and presumably the other countries in the Transpacific Partnership) to drop its trade barriers against Japan without demanding reciprocal concessions. Nice, I guess, but she's just grinding her free-trade ax, secure in the faith that free trade is the remedy for all economic ills.

Second, she ties herself up in knots.
The second thing the U.S. can do is stop kidding everyone about infrastructure as stimulus. The natural response of the U.S. now -- the most likely expression of our good will -- is to write a multibillion-dollar foreign aid bill so Japan can rebuild its cities, secure the coastline and clean up its nuclear power mess.
So, should we or shouldn't we? I'm guessing we should:
So sure, Japan will need new infrastructure now. But that infrastructure should be recognized for what it is: brick, wire, mortar. Remember, though, that growth comes from competitiveness, not government spending
Except for government spending that builds infrastructure that is necessary for "competitiveness," a null concept. I hadn't read anything by Shlaes before, but I see already why she's so popular with the wacko right and so easy for everybody else to sneer at. I'm sure the Obama administration is taking her very seriously, given Obama's own obeisance to Free Trade.

Her other recommendations? Number three,
ease immigration rules so that more Japanese can study or work here. Japanese already have a presence in American universities. Make that presence larger. Then they will be less likely to stick to their old ways of protectionism and cronyism.
... and pick up our ways of protectionism and cronyism. Finally,
The fourth move for the U.S. would be to pass laws that strengthen our own growth. That means lowering our tax rates, including corporate taxes, so that Americans make more and buy more. This isn’t selfish. It’s actually generous, because it gives Japan a strong western ally to offset expansive China. Militarily, economically and politically, a strong U.S. ally gives Japan more leeway to set its own path.
Given the US' own ties to the Middle Kingdom, I'm not sure we constitute an offset to expansive China. And Japan has been following its own path -- that's the trouble with them -- which is why Shlaes is rubbing her hands over the prospect of a coup for Disaster Capitalism.
Here’s where that unprecedented good will, that urgent desire to help a stricken country represents opportunity. If we are ever going to widen our markets, this is the moment. The same holds for Japan. An open U.S., a flexible friend, is the kind of help Japan can use most.
You'd think that Japan had been shut off behind a bamboo curtain for the past sixty-odd years instead of being a primary US ally and trading partner in Asia. But their collaboration wasn't submissive, abject enough. Now we have our chance. The vultures are circling!