Money from nothing

Brian Jones
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The mortgage mayhem, gargantuan greed and resulting recession of 2008 should have forced the economic "experts" to cease their arrogant pontificating.

But the economic genies are still at it, spouting illusions and magic. It seems we'll never stuff them back into their made-in-China bottles.

A quarter century has passed since "free trade" burst onto the political stage, shoving aside the other actors and becoming the lead character. Free trade has become dogma, an article of faith not to be questioned, akin to the virgin birth in the RC church or David Suzuki in the environmental church.

Free trade heretics have long been labelled as "protectionists," which, as a moral judgment, is the 21st-century equivalent of being a 19th-century slave trader.

Occasionally, the hypocrisy and inherent irrationality of free-trade ideologues bubbles to the surface of their made-in-China pot.

This week, it came from the U.S., although it must be noted that, in any given week, it could arise in Canada, on the flipside of the coin/border.

U.S. President Barack Obama wants to spend $447 billion on schools, roads, bridges and buses. The intent isn't necessarily to improve Americans' lives - although it might do that - but to create jobs.

As usual with multibillion-dollar projects, it's difficult to comprehend its magnitude. Think of it this way: $447 billion would put 298 Hummers in every driveway in David Suzuki's pristine Vancouver neighbourhood.

The problem - other than exhaust fumes from 14.9 million Hummers - is that Canadian free traders are aghast.

Obama - recently nicknamed Bam Bam by one witty commentator - has it in his mind that the 447 billion American dollars will be spent in America to create jobs for Americans.

Obama's proposal includes the proviso that the $447 billion must be used to purchase only goods and materials "produced in the United States."

According to a Canadian Press report, the Canadian government opposes the "buy American" provisions of Bam Bam's plan because they are ... protectionist.

Maybe the White House missed the memo that we now live in a globalized world, which, in some people's minds, means Obama should spend American taxpayers' money to create jobs in, say, Canada or Mexico.

Stories such as this - and they are common, and regular - reveal the falsity of free-trade dogma. Capital and money zip across borders, but labour doesn't. When capital and money pack their bags and move out, jobs are left behind, heartbroken and destitute.

Free-trade dogmatists avoid this unsavoury situation by declaring we are in the "Information Age" and now have a "knowledge economy."

A computer in every classroom is swell, but there isn't much thought given to the kids at the back of the class who aren't likely to become information agers and who need those semi-skilled or unskilled jobs in a local factory. Too late - many of the places where Canadians and Americans used to make stuff are adorned with made-in-China "Closed" signs.

But back to Bam Bam. Free traders are stretching their logic if they think it makes sense to tell Obama to spend American "stimulus" money in Canada. The Republicans would eat him alive, adding cannibalism to all their other faults.

We've seen this sort of situation in Newfoundland.

Imagine the angry uproar that would have ensued if an offshore project hadn't required a "Newfoundland component," and had instead been entirely constructed in South Korea.

Free trade would be fine in an ideal world, between equal partners. But "I'll trade one million of my widgets for one million of your widgets" is fundamentally different than "I'd like to buy one million of your widgets that I used to make myself."

It's hockey season. Parents, get shopping for those made-in-China skates, gloves, elbow pads, etc.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at


Organizations: RC church, Canadian Press, Republicans The Telegram

Geographic location: China, United States, Canada Vancouver Newfoundland Mexico South Korea

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