Saturday, February 11, 2006

First World

China and India have surging economies - so much so that some see the future as theirs. They have a voracious and growing hunger for oil, and are unencumbered by environmental regulations. Their workers earn a small fraction of what Western workers make, which may be tough luck for the individual, but is phenomenal for their national trade balances.

Again, the European Union - currently comprised of twenty-five states - is larger and more populous, with a greater gross domestic product, than the USA. The diversity of its culture is far more varied - Finland and Portugal have far less in common than California and Maine. If diversity is an asset, then the EU has this advantage over the US as well. The bureaucracy is centralized, regulation is aggressive, and the ethos is socialistic. If these are advantages, then the EU is ahead of the US.

In contrast, the US has the least regulated economy in the West. It is not a centralized, but a federated system - increasingly less so, but still markedly. The ethos is still the most laissez faire in the West, still holding (to a diminishing but significant degree of course) to a sink-or-swim mindset. The US, then, is far more Bush than GoreKerry. And Europe must count as the ultimate Blue State.

What of it? Well, the US has the fastest growing economy in the West. After Finland. How odd. Our economy is growing at a faster sustained rate than during the post-war boom of the '40s into the '70s. This, even after the economic goring of 9/11. Likewise, the US dominates the intellectual world, whether the standard be number of patents granted, or peer-reviewed publications, or PhDs earned, or (ahem) Prizes awarded.

To whom, then, does the future belong?

The greatest natural resource is human ingenuity. Wealth is created, not found. Oil, or minerals, or land or any asset is of no worth until it is exploited. Its worth is invented by recognizing and using it. In game theory there’s the idea of a zero-sum game, where if somebody profits (wins), somebody else loses (um, loses) - for every plus, there is an equal minus. But if I extract ore from the desert, who loses? If miners and refiners, and transporters and manufacturers and merchants occupy themselves with profiting from the use of that ore, who loses? Well, I suppose lizards and kangaroo rats are disturbed - but a mine site is just another ecosystem, right? A sunken ship becomes a reef, and a world is born.

Property, despite what utter fools assert, is not theft. The misery caused by the company town or robber-baron capitalists is not a requirement of economics or of capitalism - it is the outworking of corrupt human nature. So, with a slight tweaking of emphasis, the memorable maxim from the movie “Wall Street” becomes not merely true, but right: “Greed is good.” No, greed isn’t good, but enlightened self-interest is good. A vice is just a corrupted virtue - love into lust, or charity into sloth. Play the game yourself.

What, then? A final factoid: the entire Arab world has a gross domestic product smaller than that of, say, Portugal. Why is Mexico a third world country, and Canada a first world country? Is it genetic? Does it have to do with melanin content in skin? Is a country’s placement along the latitudes a determinant of position in the world economy? The answer, of course, is cultural. Mexico is poisonously corrupt. Bribery is ingrained, like the old PRI party - imagine an institutional ... revolutionary ... party. Hmm. Sounds a bit, um, contradictory, somehow. Talk about an oxymoron. So Mexico’s chief export is Mexicans. I don’t want to go on about this, except to point out that no one leaves their homeland except to find someplace better.

So there it is. It used to be that the “first world” was defined by democracy and industrialization, the “second world” by communist domination, and the “third world” by poverty. But things have changed. I would have it that the first world, as always, is that aligned with the USA - I think its clearest current descriptor would be the position on the so-called war on terror - specifically, having a positive roll in this, the Fourth World War. The “second world” is characterized by a socialistic, pacifistic, and to my way of thinking hypocritical and cowardly mindset. Most of Europe, then. The third world must be characterized by corruption, oppression and failure.

“Poverty” is not about lacking money. You can be poor or you can be broke - the difference being that broke is temporary. The key is attitude. We saved and rebuild Europe. The money we poured into that continent wasn’t wasted, because the culture there was not one of poverty. Europe after Hitler was broke - a temporary state, fixed with the help of friends. But all the aid we’ve poured into the third world is money down the black hole of corruption. The old saw goes that if you distributed all the money in the world equally, after a short time there’d be rich and poor again. Jesus said it: the poor are always with us. The third world will always be with us, because corruption is universal.

What of China and India, then? China has always been a world of its own. India is a surprisingly close ally of the US. Europe may be noticing that its socialism is a sort of sterility, mirrored in the infertility of Europeans themselves. As for Islam, theocracies turn out to be the most corrupt of all forms of government. What need we fear? India and China? No - welcome to capitalism, friends. Europe? Ah, dear sister, find your virtue and come home. Islam? As we remain strong, we remain safe.

The future could be almost anything. But it is not a zero-sum game. Just thought I'd point that out.



Kade said...

Well said... well said, indeed.

Jack H said...

Why, welcome, and thank you kindly. I'm just wishing somebody really nasty would comment, so I could get into a fight.