Friday, February 29, 2008

Liberal substance

Right. The democratic primaries are entertaining, so much that everyone (inside and outside America) is siding with either Obama or Hillary, as if THEY were the opposites, as if one would be good and the other one bad. Then there's drama, pub discussions, rallying, you know, the circus that we all need alongside the daily bread.

But - some facts have reminded me that reality is not quite like that.

First: Obama and Hillary are quite similar in terms of policy. Too similar, in fact. Universal or almost universal health care. Pull out of Iraq in an orderly line or in a bang. Reverse Nafta or propose a new Nafta. On and on the list goes, split much more along semantic than ideological lines.

Second: For as much Hillary has been punching Obama, she cannot beat him TOO hard, otherwise she'd give republicans some meat for the REAL contest in the next months. When McCain comes to punch Obama, he's probably going to kick and use a baseball bat as well. This article in the New York Times election blog actually explains it much more clearly than I ever could.

Third: are democrats really the best option now? I mean, for a non-American like myself, should I cheer for the Dems? What would it mean to me if they won?
OK. Within that point: Bush has been terrible in a lot of issues. He and his party definitely represent a portion of American conservatism that thinks backwards and inwards, and which does very little to share with the world the good things of American culture. In fact, it does a lot to share the bad things (pollution, consumerism, xenophobia, ...).

But - what is it that the world needs from America, economically speaking? Is it less pollution? Probably, but not most importantly. Open trade is the correct answer. Every country wants to buy and sell its goods to America, and America should want to buy and sell goods for other countries, in a process that would leave everyone better off. Again, a look at this well-balanced article from the Financial Times explains it better than I would.

The FT also reminds us that both Obama and Hillary have been speaking as if Nafta - arguably the most pro-free-trade action in America in the past 20 years - was bad for America because it made Americans lose jobs. The agreement, in their words, should be overhauled. Which is a starting point not to pursue free trade at all.

Quoting the FT:

Trade policy has no effect on net employment: you can as easily have full employment, or chronic unemployment, under autarky as under free trade. The purpose of liberal trade is not to “create jobs” – the term is a badge of economic illiteracy – but to change the pattern of work and raise living standards overall. As with new technology, there are winners and losers. The right policy is not to turn back integration, any more than it would be to ban the fork-lift truck. It is to ensure that the overall gains are widely shared and the victims get help.

The saddest thing is that the Democrats who understand this reasoning believe that the party’s supporters are too dull to grasp it, and must be fed some protectionist red meat. The challenge, they believe, is to pander to ignorance while doing the least harm.

After this masterclass from an expert, I have nothing to add.

Oh, actually I do. I have always been very positively impressed on how much the Financial Times and The Economist transcend political divides and never - ever - side with political ideologies in their opinions. They are, however, consistent defenders of liberalism. How long will it take for Brazil to have anything like that in the media? Our reporters at times seem most worried in ousting or defending the government, selectively choosing what themes to write, rather than bring out issues whose discussion would improve well-being of the nation.

Not to mention it is tiring to always read both the leftist and the rightist column, because I know that the truth is in neither one. These days, forming an opinion out of Brazilian media sounds like doing a statistical analysis: you collect a massive amount of data, then exclude the outliers, than figure out the mean and standard deviation, perhaps test if it is a normal distribution...

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