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Registered: 07/30/02
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Beggars CAN Be Choosers - Logical Critique of Protectionism
    #2821494 - 06/23/04 05:09 PM (13 years, 10 months ago)

Beggars Can Be Choosers
Excellent article using the reductio ad absurdum method to refute a protectionist claim. The quoted portion of my post is an article written by a protectionist about how clothing given as charity by British Citizens to poor Zambian citizens is deletarious to the Zambian economy. The author of the linked article shows how this thinking is flawed in the italicized portion of my post. Much more in the actual link, I'd strongly advise reading it all. Would love to see a counter to this!


For millions of Zambians living on less than $2 a day, it is the only way to buy new clothes. It seems like a win-win situation. Cast-off clothes given to charity by Britons are exported to poverty-stricken Africans who otherwise cannot afford new outfits. But [the practice] has decimated Zambia's textile trade.

Sury Patel used to run Swarp, one of the country's biggest clothing manufacturers. In its heyday he employed more than 200 people producing 2,400 shirts a day. Today only 20 people work in Patel's factories and, instead of finely tailored shirts, Swarp's main business has been reduced to churning out cloth which sells for a pittance. Patel has been ruined.

It seems far-fetched that the destruction of Patel's enterprise is caused by Britons giving clothes to charity. But economic reforms forced on Zambia by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund gave the country a stark choice: privatise state-run enterprises and open up industry to overseas competition or lose international aid.

In recent years the IMF's free-market doctrine applied throughout the developing world has lifted restrictions on imports. In a bizarre spin-off, the Zambian textile industry has seen a glut of imported second-hand clothes which UK charities cannot sell. They are exported by private companies and it is this which has, in effect, killed Zambia's clothing manufacturing base.

The ultimate purpose of economic activity is consumption. The whole point of engaging in a productive process is the final end product, which you get to consume. Now it's true, some tasks are more onerous than others, and you certainly should take that into account before deciding what to do with your scarce labor resources. But in no case should you treat labor as "its own reward." If you get a special, psychic kick from a hard day's work, that's great?but while you're at it, spend your day working on something useful.

If jobs were really all that counted, we could cure unemployment very quickly: Half the unemployed people could dig holes, and the other half could fill them up. But this "solution" wouldn't increase the total amount of goods and services produced, and so the only way to allow these newly employed people to go to restaurants, watch movies, and buy cars would be to reduce the average level of consumption by everyone else (who was originally employed doing something productive). The problem of unemployment is to find an efficient way to channel unused labor resources into projects that at least some consumers will actually appreciate. (Incidentally, theory and history have shown that this is a problem best left to free markets, not central planners.)

Even though the above observations are painfully obvious, there is nothing of their kind in Mathiason's article. His concern is entirely for Zambia's unemployed textile workers, and has only a passing reference to Zambia's consumers (who after all are the ones benefiting from the donated clothing). Clearly somebody must be gaining from the British donations. After all, if every single Zambian were poorer, then why don't they all burn the offending garments the first chance they get? Or, better yet, why not send them back to Britain, and ruin their textile industry?

Aha! These last rhetorical questions have opened up another promising reductio ad absurdum. If Mathiason believes that giving Zambians free clothing makes them poorer because it reduces jobs in the textile industry, then would Mathiason endorse clothing raids by British thieves on Zambian households? These would be similar to the childish "panty raids" popularized in American films, but in this case the benevolent thieves would be sure to include shirts, trousers, and socks, and would not restrict the raids to sorority houses; after all, we want to create as many jobs as possible. I do not ask this tongue-in-cheek. If giving the Zambians free clothing makes them poorer, then stealing their clothing should make them richer.

?When Alexander the Great visted the philosopher Diogenes and asked whether he could do anything for him, Diogenes is said to have replied: 'Yes, stand a little less between me and the sun.' It is what every citizen is entitled to ask of his government.?
-Henry Hazlitt in 'Economics in One Lesson'

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Re: Beggars CAN Be Choosers - Logical Critique of Protection [Re: Ancalagon]
    #2822002 - 06/23/04 08:34 PM (13 years, 10 months ago)

broken window fallacy in reverse?

good article.

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