Christopher Posted April 26, 2009 Share Posted April 26, 2009 Both The Capitalist Manifesto, written by Bernstein, and Objectivist writings assert that the United States should not trade (nor have relations) with nations whose governments commit human rights violations. The fundamental idea seems to be this:1. Trade and relations benefit all parties involved2. Trading with a nation whose government violates human rights provides stability to that government through a combination of strengthening government power and raising the living standards of citizens who therefore remain content.3. By not trading, the government remains weak, the living standards of people in the nation remain weak, and unrest grows.4. Through unrest, the population has the potential to overthrow the weak government.It sounds logical, but if we really think about it, the idea of having no relations with such nations is quite silly and doesn't work. It's not working in North Korea (the citizens there love their government), it never worked with Cuba, and it didn't work historically in ancient nations such as China and Japan (which survived hundreds if not thousands of years without trade). We could argue that when the living standards of the populus in France dropped so low, the French overthrew their government... but this ignores the historical context of the French Revolution that led up to revolutionary unrest.So what does work? A recent example is the ending of apartheid in South Africa:South Africa had international relations with several free nations, including the United States. Through these relationships, South Africa developed and became interdependent on trade and the financial security provided by such relationships. Then, South Africa was threatened that relational resources would be unavailable if apartheid remained intact. What could they do but change?In the 1960s South Africa had economic growth second only to that of Japan. Trade with Western countries grew, and investors from the United States, France and Britain rushed in to get a piece of the action. Resistance among blacks had been crushed. Since 1964 Mandela, leader of the African Nation Congress, had been in prison on Robben Island just off the coast from Cape Town, and it appeared that South Africa's security forces could handle any resistance to apartheid. But in the seventies this rosy picture for South Africa's whites began to fade...The anti-apartheid movements in the United States and Europe were gaining support for boycotts against South Africa, for the withdrawal of U.S. firms from South Africa and for the release of Mandela. South Africa was becoming an outlaw in the world community of nations. Investing in South Africa by Americans and others was coming to an end.The ending of apartheid didn't happen through the process described by Capitalist Manifesto or Objectivism. Rather, it occurred precisely because the US and other nations were initially open to trade.Therefore, I believe a more effective process in ending human rights violations by other governments is through relationships and trade:1. Establish trade and communication relations with nations that violate human rights.2. Through these relationships, the government will become interdependent on other nations and the living standards of the population will be raised.3. After interdependence has been established and living standards of the citizens has been raised, leverage international relationships to end human rights violations.Much like the average US citizen's dependence on oil, the governments of foreign nations become restructured to depend on international relationships. When this is so, threatening foreign relationships is far more powerful (and would be ultimately more devastating) to the government in power. For example, we have seen massive changes in China's human rights policies since their immersion on to the international stage. Additionally, when lifestyle expectations of citizens has been raised, diminishment of that lifestyle as a result of trade embargos, etc. creates far more unrest. This is preciselywhat happened in France - through financial crisis, the citizens were taxed more, their living standards decreased, and they revolted. It was the relative shift of their lifestyles (not the permanent suppression of their lifestyles) that led to revolution. Unrest is not created by keeping people in poverty, it's created by putting people into poverty. Before people can be put into poverty, they need to be raised out of it. A similar argument could be made for the US revolution - Americans were able to create expectations about a certain living standard, and once the government attempted to reduce that living standard (through taxes), the citizens revolted. However, my favorite story comes from a Chinese teenager. In an interview, she said (paraphrasing): "Oh, the Tiananmen Square incident wasn't that important. Yeah, human rights are ok, but all I really care about is being able to have my cellphone and go to nice restaurants." At first I reacted with disgust. Then I understood a deeper force. If the Chinese government fails economically to provide for the new expectations of its citizens, it will be attacked by its citizens. Since economic stability ultimately depends on practices consistent with human rights, this simple Chinese citizen was supporting a government shift towards human rights through her raised economic expectations.So I think this whole argument today about whether it's good to have relations with anti-human rights foreign nations needs further exploration. It might feel good from a standpoint of justice to withhold the benefits of trade to nations who violate human rights; but history (and reason) show that if we want to correct human rights in other nations, we need to help develop these nations first. By helping develop these nations (through trade), we not only gain leverage to reduce violations against human rights, the citizens of the developing nation become involved in the process of change as well. And if nothing else, we also raise the living standards of the inflicted population in the process, and that is quite laudable.Christopher Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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