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Ricardian Resentment

Regular Passenger and Freight Service, The East Asiatic Company, Ltd. Shipping Company Poster (Photo … [+] by �� Swim Ink 2, LLC/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Corbis via Getty Images

The Ricardians are again out in force, evidently experiencing another bout of resentful remembrance this week. The IMF has just augured that present moves toward ‘friendshoring’ on the part of the world’s principal trading nations ‘could slow global output,’ while Martin Wolf warns that we’re throwing away ‘nine decades of hugely successful policy.’

What is most comical about such pronouncements, coming now as they do, is perhaps less how wrongheaded they are than how unmindful they are of the fact that yes, we know all that. We’re well familiar with the Ricardian clichés.

The brief against untrammeled trade has never been that it fails to ‘maximize output’ in an aggregative sense. It has been, and remains, that maximum output is simply not interesting – it is ethically inert – when it comes at the expense of actual values, things that really matter.

What really matters? Well, at least three mutually complementary things in the present context. The first is supply security. The US’s loss, for example, of productive capacity since the heyday of globalization and especially during the pandemic is of course the source of our present CPI woes.

Some of us warned of this repeatedly both before and during the pandemic, yet were ignored by most monetary policy hawks and doves alike. It is gratifying to see this week that at least one former Fed Vice Chair – Rich Clarida – now understands this. But how long must we wait before others in authority see it as well?

The second thing that matters is national productive autonomy – a prerequisite to the aforementioned supply security. That is particularly so now, as global political shifts render early 20th century style competitions for ‘global markets’ and essential raw materials all the more likely ahead.

The spectacle of a US unable even to produce respiratory ventilators and N95 masks during the worst of the pandemic is not something anyone – at least no American – wishes to see ever again. And if forgoing a few percentage points of rentier profit derived from exploited foreign labor is the cost of autonomy, no non-rentier citizen, and no non-sociopathic rentier citizen, will view this as anything less than a bargain.

Finally, the third thing that matters is individual productive autonomy. By far the worst failing of aggregationist thinking is its utter indifference to the infinite worth and indeed sacred creativity of every human being – every human being in her capacity as a miraculously productive soul.

To extoll the false joys of a ‘bigger pie’ with literally no regard what ever for either (a) who gets what slices, or (b) everyone’s indelible right to be one of the ‘bakers’ is, to put the point mildly, sociopathic. It’s a bizarre and profoundly inhuman fetish, nothing more.

We need not indulge these strange fantasies, how ever much the old ‘90s Clintonian guard might now resent their well earned policy irrelevance. Indeed we have every reason to reject such lunacy, and to seek psychological help for those caught in their inhuman grip. Enough of the silly old 19th century talk of ‘comparative advantage’ as product of fate rather than design, then, and onward to healthier ways both collectively and, thereby, individually.

Henceforth any time you hear someone whinge on behalf of antihuman aggregationism, then, insist that the person in question explain to you, on the spot, just what s/he proposes we do to ensure literally every citizen’s full equality and material productive autonomy.

No Ricardian devoid of a serious plan as to how we shall do that need ever be taken seriously again.

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