Friday, December 03, 2004

Kuttner vs. Norberg -- it isn't even close

Check out this debate between liberal economist/journalist Robert Kuttner and capitalist/libertarian Johan Norberg from Sweden. The debate appears to have been hosted by Cato, but despite the home-field advantage Norberg goes down early. It really wasn't a fair fight, with Norberg forced to repeat the same tired talking points over and over again, basically amounting to "the government shouldn't intervene whatsoever in the economic sphere, even in the case of market failures, depressions, Enron scandals, etc." Ayn Rand would have been proud. Unfortunately, he makes many factual errors which Kuttner mercilessly points out, and it gets pretty ugly early on.

Norberg tries to argue that we should be happy to trade with any country, regardless of whether they offer up even the most minimal human rights, labor or environmental protetions because the free-market will sort it out.

An example of Norberg's almost unbelievable naivety being is displayed in this passage:

"There are a lot of tough decisions facing a country carving out trade rules, such as the extent of intellectual property rights, or the trade-off between environmental protection and material living standards/poverty reduction. Even though issues like this often relate to trade, there is no reason to allow them to stand in the way of trade. Because no matter what kind of policies our trading partners choose, we benefit by trading freely with them. The simple reason for this is that voluntary exchange brings benefits to both parties, otherwise they would not make the deal.

But you are skeptical, Mr. Kuttner. Your premises are revealed when you write that "we've spent a hundred years trying to balance the rights of workers and consumers against those of corporations". This gives the impression that corporations and workers/consumers are engaged in some sort of eternal conflict, perhaps a class struggle. This is a hopelessly outdated notion. The fact is that in a liberal, market-based society the corporations only make their money by giving consumers what they want, at a good price. With our purchasing power, we set the agenda, and corporations are forced to find better, cheaper and more efficient ways of giving us what we want. When backroom operations are moved to India, or to Northern Sweden, corporations reduce production costs, and create fantastic possibilities for people living in those regions."

Note that the thred is in reverse chronological order, like with blogs, so scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to see the beginning of the debate.

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