Beggar Thy Neighbor

Imagine you live next door to a family.  They are poor as poor can be: under-eating, wearing rags, no heat, no cool, little water, etc.  They just barely survive.  One day, the adults of the household decide to start working more, and they begin trading (ie, buying and selling) with the wider community.  In a fairly short time, they go from being poor to being moderately wealthy: more food, better clothing, they have a small, old, but operating car now.  They have heat and air conditioning.  In short, they’re moving on up.  They’re not quite at your and your neighbors’ standard of living yet, but they’re getting there.

Now, one of your neighbors says: “That family…oh, they’re bad news.  They’re getting wealthier every day.  If they keep growing at this pace, they’re going to leave us in the dust.  We have to stop them!  I demand we all stop buying from them.”

One would, I should think, reasonably object to such measures.  What’s it matter that the neighbor is improving his life?  Wealth is not a zero-sum game, and a wealthier neighbor is a good thing for the neighborhood.  One would conclude the objecting neighbor is just jealous, just trying to protect his position.

And yet, this is exactly the jealous reasoning employed by protectionists scarcityists.  Warren Platt, a self-proclaimed protectionist, leaves the following comment at Carpe Diem the other day:

I disagree with the narrative that China is 50 years behind the USA [in terms of living standards]. They are not. They are par with us, and are growing much, much faster. They will soon leave us in the dust unless something changes.

Ignoring the factual issues with Warren’s comment, even if the Chinese were on par with the US, so what?  The US is still an insanely wealthy nation.  So long as we resist a glade into scarcityism and socialism, that will continue to be.  What’s it matter if another nation approaches or surpasses us?  That is no reason to impose tariffs to harm both us and them!

China has spent much of the past century in the muck and mire of human poverty, and now that they are finally pulling themselves up, the objection is they threaten our relative position, and must be cast back down.

There are lots of poor arguments for scarcityism, but this is among the worst.

4 thoughts on “Beggar Thy Neighbor

  1. “The US is still an insanely wealthy nation.”=exactly what I learned and still learn in my travels around the world! Most people in the world do not own a car, a house, large quantities of things, and consume so many resources.

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