Saturday, March 21, 2009

Don't buy Australian

Having discovered that I apparently used to have slightly greater than zero readers, I'm resurrecting this blog.

I have several themes in mind for some upcoming posts, but I've picked today's mainly because I think I can be pretty succinct about it. Well, more so than usual.

Don't buy Australian made goods - or rather, buy them, of course, if they're good value, but never buy something purely because its got an Australian made logo. Don't support "Buy Australian" campaigns in any form. And certainly don't give your political support to advocates of tarriffs and other forms of industrial protectionism, including subsidies - and note that government funded advertising promoting a local industry is a form of subsidy. (Why should the taxpayer foot the bill for this? Businesses should pay their own marketing costs.)

It's immoral.

Yes, I'm serious. Australia is a rich country. Our corporations are rich, and the vast majoirty of our workers are by and large rich, by any reasonable standard. We have cars, plasma screen TVs, iPhones, second cars, plentiful water, electricity, excellent health and education services, abundant food, nice clothes, etc, etc. We have more wealth than most humans who have lived or are living could dream of.

This is far from a bad thing, in and of itself. But there is certainly no moral imperative for you to give your money to Australian businesses. On the contrary - most of the world's countries need your dollars far more than Australia does.

Are Australians inherently more deserving of work than Malaysians? Or Germans? Or Ethiopians? That is the implication of the kind of rhetoric you see increasingly in letters to today's papers, about how by reducing tarrifs, we have "exported jobs overseas." Why should you pay more for something simply so that a likely well-off stranger in Kalgoorlie or Townsville or Melbourne, with plenty of employment opportunities, can have a job at the expense of a poorer foreigner?

Many people in third world countries die in tremendous povery, and this is partly because Western countries force them to liberalise their economies and open the markets to our goods, and allow our corporations to buy interests in their countries; but in turn, governments in America and Europe pander to lobby groups and keep up tarriff barriers against the agricultural goods that these countries tend to produce (this is not so true of Australia - our farmers are much more competitive, largely because we don't have the clout to act as such reprehensible economic bullies.) This is an immense injustice. People in Africa starve to death to preserve the "right" of French farmers not to use modern farm machinery, and charge French consumers twice as much for their bread as they should be paying.

Furthermore, fair, peaceful trade promotes peace. This is not a bullshit economists' argument (although there are plenty of those going around.) It is well grounded in strong, consistent emprical evidence. That side of the argument is made well here.

If Australian goods aren't worth buying in and of themselves, then they're not worth buying. If our industries can't keep up with global competition, they need to become more efficient. If they can't, they should fold. Government money spent propping up ailing local factories is far better spent retraining the workers involved and finding them new jobs.

This is not to say we shouldn't multilaterally try to get foreign countries to adopt labour standards so their workers have more humane working conditions closer to ours.

This is not to say we shouldn't boycott specific products that we know to entail human misery - goods made by sweatshop labour, or slave labour, or by corporations that wilfully despoil the environment, or corruptly influence foreign governments.

But these kind of ethical standards apply to both domestic and foreign goods, and provide no solid reason to favour Australian products as a general rule.

OK, so less succinct than intended. But the hypocrisy of the majority of people who advocate economic nationalism, and the thoughtlessness of many people who accept it as obvious and decent when it is in fact an outrage, gets me a little worked up :-)