[Ed: continued from Part IX published here yesterday.]
Man does not live by bread alone
Even if the “free traders’” claims of an overall increase in the wealth of a society were true, there would still be strong arguments against the policy because a society is more than its crude economic relationships.
Human beings do not like too much uncertainty. A certain amount of stress is good for them, but only so much. Like masochists and physical pain, human beings are comfortable with stress only in so far as they feel it is within their control. Manifestly, for many people the uncertainty they experience is utterly outside their control. This widespread insecurity leads not merely to individual suffering but damages the social fabric by generally diminishing confidence in the future and the ability to cope in the here and now.
A 2005 study (Molly Watson Western Mail 31 9 2005) by a Cardiff University Department of Psychology team led by Prof Aylward Mansel suggests that the general level of happiness in the Depression was greater than it is now (the team analysed data from surveys of assessing happiness and contentment from the past 70 years.) This conclusion might seem absurd to most people living today who, if they have any conception of the Depression, it is one of a dire time packed with the most horrendous stress. Yet the findings of the report have a certain plausibility because in the 1930s there was undoubtedly a greater sense of social solidarity, especially amongst the working class, than there is now and civil society was far stronger then – the working class not only lived in close-knit communities which offered support to those who fell on hard times, but they were woven into supportive institutions such as the co-operative movement and unions. They were anything but socially isolated whereas today people are often isolated. Social involvement, the Cardiff University study found, was the single most important cause of happiness or unhappiness.
One must be cautious with such studies because however scrupulous the researchers a degree of subjectivity is inevitable. Nonetheless the equation of isolation with unhappiness will, I think, strike a strong chord with most.
There is also the question of a people’s self-confidence. If a nation’s visible and everyday manufactures are predominantly foreign, it tends to produce a sense of dependence in the individual. A man looks around and can find next to nothing he can identify as produced either in his own country or made by companies owned by his countrymen. Not unnaturally he begins to lose confidence in the ability of his own country to stand alone. Peoples throughout history have allowed themselves to be conquered simply because they believed themselves to be generally inferior to those who confronted them and slaves have been routinely controlled by owners who deliberately attempted to reinforce their sense of inferiority.
Free trade is postulated on an absurdity, namely that the world will no longer see wars which will significantly disrupt trade, or at least the trade of the First World. It is a fool’s paradise.
Those with memories greater than that of a goldfish may recall the help and support Britain received from her supposed EU “partners” in the Falklands. Remember how France supplied military equipment in the form of missiles to the Argentine during that war. Imagine what would have happened if Britain at the time had relied largely on equipment which was either wholly or partly produced abroad. Suppose, for example, her main fighter aircraft had been produced by an EU consortium (as it soon will be), what guarantee could Britain have had of fresh supplies of spare parts and weapons during the Falklands war?
The dependence on foreign suppliers affects even the greatest states. The New York Times (29 Sept 2005 – “More US weapons have foreign roots”) documents the reliance of the US military on foreign suppliers. This is still small as a percentage of the whole defence budget but it is growing and already encompasses important areas such as bio-chemical warfare protective suits.
The democratic deficit
“Free trade” emasculates democracy. It does this by confining politics within narrow limits. The present “free trade” agreements mean that no political party can easily stand on a platform of extending state intervention, whether by nationalisation, trade restrictions such as embargoes or the subsidy of its own industries. A party which wished to do any of these things could of course propose to withdraw from the treaties, but that would be in practice a very difficult course to follow, especially where the treaty obligations go beyond mere trade such as those involved in membership of the European Union.
Loss of democratic control is obviously to the disadvantage of the masses. However, it also has implications for competition. The prevention of the formation of monopolies and cartels can be done at the national level, but it is impossible when companies become supranational. You offend against America’s anti-trust laws? No problem, you remove your manufacturing abroad to countries which are happy to have you (or at least their clients are) regardless of what arrangements you may have made with competitors or the any monopoly position.
Does “free trade” increase competition and choice in the long run?
In the industrialised world at least, the experience of less restricted trade since 1945 is that competition has reduced not merely in the capital intensive industries and occupations but in those which are not obvious. The numbers of farmers has greatly contracted, but so have the number of storekeepers as chain stores and supermarkets have overwhelmed the individual proprietor. In fact, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to find a mature field of economic activity, that is , one which has not sprung up since 1945, which has not displayed reduced competition within the post-war period.
Some of this reduction in competition is simply due to the working of the domestic market towards monopoly, for example, the growth of chain stores, but much of it is directly related to the removal of protection for First World economies.
It is true that large parts of the world have industrialised and increased the number of international competitors, but the overall number of businesses in the developed world has been reduced. multinationals control much of the economic activity of the Third World and, in some industries, dominate the national markets of the First World.
The car industry is a wonderful example of the squeezing of competition. All over the world car companies are being taken over by the giants and many car companies which do exist rely on state aid and favours. The number of companies now being small (and becoming smaller) compared with the number even 40 years ago. Moreover, many of the car companies which do still exist do so only because of state subsidy and protection.
Other traditionally important industries where competition is greatly reduced are aerospace, aviation, shipbuilding, oil, chemicals, steel and farming.
[To be continued tomorrow in UKIP Daily.]