The Free Trade Hypocrisy

It is a very common clever device that when anyone has attained the summit of greatness, he kicks away the ladder by which he has climbed up, in order to deprive others of the means of climbing up after him. In this lies the secret of the cosmopolitical doctrine of Adam Smith, and of the cosmopolitical tendencies of his great contemporary William Pitt, and of all his successors in the British Government administrations.

Any nation which by means of protective duties and restrictions on navigation has raised her manufacturing power and her navigation to such a degree of development that no other nation can sustain free competition with her, can do nothing wiser than to throw away these ladders of her greatness, to preach to other nations the benefits of free trade, and to declare in penitent tones that she has hitherto wandered in the paths of error, and has now for the first time succeeded in discovering the truth.

When Friedrich List wrote these paragraphs in The National System of Political Economy in the 19th century, the U.S. was a newly industrializing nation. Today, it is at the pinnacle of technological achievements. Here are the hard truths about national economic development: climbing your way up requires unorthodox tools; staying on top takes hypocrisy to deny latecomers those very same tools.

The Birth of Tragedy

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Charlie Chaplin said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”

Reading chapters from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, and Trump’s press conference, you will conclude that a nation’s decline is the reverse – it is a close-up comedy and long-shot tragedy. Trump has turned White House into reality comedy shows.

The Spirit of 1776 vs. The Spirit of 2016

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The Spirit of 1776, by Archibald Willard, represents the zeitgeist of the American Revolution. It refers to the attitude of self-determination and individual liberty. The Spirit of 2016, by David Parkins for The Economist, typifies the global sentiment following the election of Donald Trump as US president. It is an unsettling zest for tribalism and authoritarianism.

The Anglo-Russian Rivalry

It’s sad to see how much the Anglo-Russian rivalry has degraded. It used to be about the Eastern Question over the Ottoman Empire, the Great Game in Central Asia, the Cambridge Spy Ring. Today it’s about the respective countries’ hooligans rioting in football games during Euro 2016. We live in a mediocre age.

The Political Logic of China’s GDP Growth Target

I’m a political analyst, not an economist. But in many situations, it’s more than enough for me to understand the logic behind the Chinese economy.

As an important example: in the March 2016 National People’s Congress session, why did Xi Jinping set 6.5% as the GDP growth target for the next 5 years?

This number has nothing to do with economics. It’s all about politics and the logic is as follows:

  1. In October 2015, the Fifth Plenum of the 18th Central Committee set itself the ambition of doubling the 2010 GDP by 2021.
  2. Why 2021? Because it is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Doubling the GDP so that China becomes a “moderately well-off society” will fulfill one of the “two centenary goals” of the CCP, very key to sustaining its legitimacy.
  3. Take a look at the realized GDP growth rates for the past 5 years: 2011-9.5%; 2012-7.8%; 2013-7.7%; 2014-7.3%; 2015-6.9%.
  4. If the average growth rate for the next 5 years from 2016 to 2020 is 6.5%, the 2021 GDP will be exactly double that of 2010. Mathematically: (1+9.5%)*(1+7.8%)*(1+7.7%)*(1+7.3%)*(1+6.9%)*(1+6.5%)^5=2.