One Finite Planet

One Finite Planet

Free Trade: Why everybody has budget deficits

Date Published:

debtGovernments of developed countries all around the world are running budget deficits right now, and the reason follows from free trade.  I have posted before on how every ethical decision our society makes comes at an economic cost. In many cases, this economic cost is a government cost and require increasing taxes, but in today’s free trade world international competition now dictates low tax rates to be competitive. The result is inescapable deficits.

What is good about free trade, and why is too much free trade a disaster?

The free trade dream.

Agriculture provides the classical example. Country A has cool climate and can very effectively grow strawberries.  Country B is tropical and grows great mangos.  Each country could try and grow both types of fruit,  but it will be expensive and problematic with one of the fruits.  If each country focuses on what that country does best, and trades their excess for the other fruit from the other country, both countries can enjoy both fruits with optimum efficiency.

This is the dream of free trade.  Different countries each have things they do best.  Free trade allows each country to focus only on what they do best, and trade with other countries for all other goods.  The world has every product produced by the most cost efficient producer,  leading to the lowest possible cost for all products.

How can too much free trade can be a problem?

With the dream example, the climate is the reason for the different skills, but climate really only applies to agriculture, which for example in Australia, now accounts for 1% of all employment.  For most actual jobs, reason why one country is more efficient than another does comes not from geography.  The real differences come from the economic system.

The dream is example highlights, with two countries that are each different, shows the motivation for free trade.  But if the whole world has free trade, many countries that are actually no so different become part of the free trade marketplace.  With our climate dependant fruit example, the whole band (or bands to include northern and southern hemispheres)  of countries with similar climate are all competing with each other. In many cases there is no reason from the environment why one country should outperform another.  When there is no natural advantage, this is where the scope for free trade to break society.

Ethics vs Economic Efficiency.

Every ethics decision a country makes comes at an economic cost.  Want to ensure the environment is not damaged?  This adds economic cost.  Want safety standards for workers?  This adds costs to production, and cost to taxation for regulation. Should the disabled and disadvantaged be cared for? This adds a taxation cost to the economy, as does universal education and health care.

With free trade, countries with no other economic difference are competing.  Every ethical decision makes industry less competitive.  Every ethics decision could result in a loss of jobs to another country.  The decision to ensure better and safer conditions for workers, or that an industry does not pollute, may simply move the workers or the pollution to another country.   This can provide a clean conscience for the society that makes the decision, and saves any resulting increased costs of goods since the goods are still produced without the costs of the ethical decision in another country.

The Conclusion.

Ethical decisions that move jobs offshore not only damage the economy, they also damage taxation revenue.  Ethical decisions to provide for the disabled and less fortunate, to provide ideal universal health care and education require increases in taxes,  but those taxes reduce competitiveness, so if taxes are raised, industry moves offshore and taxation revenue falls again.

The end result is that developed countries cannot raise the taxation revenue to provide for the ethical choices the population desires.  Perhaps the population is prepared to pay that 10% extra for their toaster resulting from higher taxes,  but in the end the country would become non-competitive if the taxes are in place.   Tax companies and the businesses move offshore.  Tax the rich and they move themselves or their wealth offshore.  While there is no barrier to moving across borders to finding the lowest cost,  countries with an ethical conscience are going to find huge problems balancing the budget.


Table of Contents


Flawed Australian voice of Indigenous People referendum: The irony of a voice campaign that failed to listen.

A tragic lost opportunity. Why didn’t those proposing the voice make changes to remove ambiguity and eliminated enough of the negative perception to win over enough support instead of simply declaring” “No, if that is how you see it you are either racist or stupid!” Was it just that there was no willingness to listen?

Australians had an opportunity in a constitutional referendum to righteously shout loudly “I am not a racist” by voting for a proposition that, at its core, could be seen as fundamentally flawed, divisive and even potentially racist, in the hope even a risk of moving in the direction of apartheid is still better than nothing.

The referendum resulted in a huge setback for action on indigenous disadvantage and while it did seem unlikely to do anything to unify Australians and offer more than some possible affirmative action, the division resulted with even sometimes “yes” voters being encouraged to also be racist.

This is a deeper look trying to see each side from the perspective of the other, with the reality that both sides had a point, and a vast majority of people do want equality and unity.

Perhaps it little more work could bring things together and offer a fresh enough perspective to move beyond just another well-intentioned patronising racism failure like the stolen generations?

Read More »

Crime: A litmus test for inequality?

Around the world, many countries have both a battle with equality for some racial groups and minorities and also a battle with crime-rates within and by those same groups.

Should we consider crime rates the real sentinels of problems and a solution require focusing on factors behind crime rates? Or is the correct response to rising crime rates or crime rates within specific groups an adoption of being “tough on crime”, thus increasing rates of incarceration and even deaths in custody for oppressed minorities and racial groups?

This is an exploration of not adjusting the level of penalties and instead focusing on the core issues and inequalities behind crime-rates. It is clear that it is “damaged people” in general rather than specific racial groups that correlate with elevated crime rates, so why not use crime rates to identify who is facing inequality?

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Influence: There’s no free lunch and they use your data to make you pay.

It can seem all those tech companies are so dumb giving away services for free.

I recently read another comment containing the “I don’t want Google getting more of my data to sell” and it reminded me of the question, ‘why is your data valuable?’ people too rarely ask. The common myth is that Facebook and Google etc want your data so they can sell it, but even with companies that do sell your data, it still requires someone to turn data into money, and enough money to fund the “free” services of the tech companies and allow them enough spare to make profits beyond anything seen in the world previously. So how does the data turn into so much money?

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Google and Facebook etc make their money from advertising, not from selling data, and unless they use can the data to persuade you to buy products at prices inflated by advertisers paying part of the sale price to Facebook/Google etc, they would lose money.

Your data is used to inflate the cost of living and earn votes for politicians with an agenda that gives them a budget to spend. They (Google/Facebook etc) don’t want to sell your data, but the reality, is more sinister: they use it to have to change your thinking, so more of your money will go to make them richer.

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The Power struggle in Australia.

From “the biggest corruption scandal ever” in Brazil, problems in Venezuela, human rights in Saudi Arabia and Iran, to the problems caused by lobbyists against action on climate change, an abundance of fossil fuels is a source of political power, yet rarely force for good, and Australia, with a wealth of coal and gas, is not spared.

The current crisis in Ukraine not only drives up energy prices globally, but it also creates a dilemma for gas producing nations.

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Fragile Democracy: Was Scott ‘Scomo’ Morrison autocrat of Australia?

Democracy collapses when a leader, who is able to bypass the checks and balances, uses their position to retain power.

Steps by recent leaders Scott Morrison and Australia and Donald Trump in the USA, raise questions as to whether current reliance on conventions and constitutions reliably protects democracy.

China, Russia and even North Korea are all technically democracies, and all proof of how technically being a democracy does not necessarily deliver real democracy.

Read More »