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Inter-Government relationships and Tariffs

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How would a fully Objectivist government handle conflicts with non-Objectivist governments? Would it have bargaining chips that could be a basis for reasoned discussion? Would it have some alternative besides these three options: doing nothing; threatening other governments; and attacking other governments?

For example, would it be possible for an Objectivist government to have a philosophical bureaucracy able to give authorized answers to any questions about Objectivism that a foreign government might have if the foreign government is willing to engage in reasoned discussion?

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Are you suggesting that potential threats can be reasoned into a rational policy? Have you ever tried reasoning with a thug? When a state become a threat, it’s way too late to reason with them. A nuclear arsenal and the will to use it is all that’s necessary.

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For example, would it be possible for an Objectivist government to have a philosophical bureaucracy able to give authorized answers to any questions about Objectivism that a foreign government might have if the foreign government is willing to engage in reasoned discussion?

Actually, an "Objectivist government" in the sense that you are talking about is not even desirable in the first place - and indeed would be a horrible idea. What is needed is a government that exists for the sole purpose of protecting individual rights - and absolutely NOTHING else.

It is highly inappropriate for a government to have an "official position" on matters of philosophy - even if those positions happen to be correct. A proper government is officially neutral on issues such as whether or not there exists a god, what sort of art or literature is best, whether one has a moral obligation to give to charity, etc. Objectivism is not neutral on such issues but a proper government is because they are NOT the proper realm of governmental concern.

If a foreign government, or anyone else for that matter, has questions about Objectivism, the place they should go to for information is a book store or an organization such as ARI. The notion that a government bureaucracy should somehow have the power to give "authorized" answers about Objectivism is downright scary and would represent a HUGE threat to Objectivism itself. The only place to find 'authorized" answers about Objectivism is by reading what Ayn Rand wrote and making one's own rational judgment as to how it applies to the question at hand.

As to how a proper government of the sort that Objectivism advocates (and which would NOT be an "Objectivist government") would deal with conflicts with other countries, that largely depends on the nature of the conflict and the nature of the other government. If the conflict involves something such as a dispute with a free, semi-free or even a semi-authoritarian government over issues such as water rights regarding a stream that passes through both countries or how to do things such as prevent the spread of agricultural pests and such across borders or what happens when a citizen of one country commits a crime against the citizens of another country, then such a government would have diplomats to deal with such things through negotiation. But if the other government is ruled by a bunch of thugs and is engaging in aggressive or criminal type of behavior, as Greedy Capitalist mentioned, there is no way of dealing with it other than by the threat of force backed up by the resolve to use it if necessary.

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Are you suggesting that potential threats can be reasoned into a rational policy?

No. I would have to do research to give examples that would make it clear that I was talking about conflicts that do not automatically lead to threats. In the meantime, perhaps we can consider conflicts between businesses. A business may have a conflict with a neighbor, a supplier, a customer, or a joint venture partner. Would you agree that such conflicts typically can and should be resolved by negotiation or by means of the civil courts? I admit that it's a bit of stretch to compare businesses and governments, but isn't it true that many countries have neighbors, countries trade with other countries, countries sign treaties with other countries, etc.?

Have you ever tried reasoning with a thug?

No, it's hard enough to reason with police officers. <_<

When a state become a threat, it’s way too late to reason with them. A nuclear arsenal and the will to use it is all that’s necessary.

If, starting from the year 300 BC, efforts to develop new technologies had focused almost exclusively on what is life-enhancing, then is it possible that we would be communicating by means of computers, but you would have mentioned archery weapons rather than nuclear weapons?

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A nuclear arsenal and the will to use it is all that’s necessary.

Would you say that tariffs are unnecessary and that, being unnecessary, they should not be used, but that nuclear weapons are necessary and should be used? Of course, tariffs are not a technology. Were you only talking about weapons technology when you used the words "all that's necessary"?

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You're demonstrating a profound inability to grasp the purpose of government, not to mention the terms that you're using.

A tariff is another form of tax that the government imposes on goods . . .usually an import duty. The government has NO RIGHT to impose these taxes on goods just because they come from other countries. Now, if you were to ask whether it's legal and reasonable for governments to forbid trade with, an enemy of the U.S., that would be rational. The reason why this is okay is that a U.S. company trading with an enemy is, directly or indirectly, providing aid and comfort to an enemy of the U.S. In other words, they're contributing to the deaths of U.S. citizens. So an outright trade embargo is perfectly rational and should be mandated when a country begins to look warlike. (Depending on the situation, it might even be possible to only have a specific type of trade embargo, such as weapons, because the money that government would get from, say, McDonald's, is unimportant if they can't buy weapons with it. I leave that to trained diplomats to decide.)

Putting a tariff on these goods ultimately amounts to the government taking a kickback in order to allow our money to fund people that want to kill U.S. citizens. It's like a corrupt police officer taking cash to ignore a Mob extortion ring.

Tariffs are not legitimate diplomatic tools. Nuclear weapons are. Nuclear weapons are used here to represent the concept of military power, which is, in fact, the same concept regardless of the weapons involved. So what the heck does 300 B.C. have to do with anything?

International diplomacy consists of protecting U.S. MILITARY interests, which exist because of a need to protect the property of U.S. citizens. There's no such thing as diplomacy divorced from the military; the military is required to back up the diplomatic corps, just like the police are needed to back up the judiciary.

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Putting a tariff on these goods ultimately amounts to the government taking a kickback in order to allow our money to fund people that want to kill U.S. citizens. It's like a corrupt police officer taking cash to ignore a Mob extortion ring.

Tariffs are not legitimate diplomatic tools. Nuclear weapons are. Nuclear weapons are used here to represent the concept of military power, which is, in fact, the same concept regardless of the weapons involved. So what the heck does 300 B.C. have to do with anything?

What? A tariff could be used in a situation where a foreign corporation has an unfair advantage over national corporations, due to receiving government subsidies from the non-laissez-faire country in which it is located. This doesnt imply that anyone is trying to kill US citizens.

edit: oh sorry, I didnt notice that you were only referring to this particular tariff.

Edited by Hal
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What? A tariff could be used in a situation where a foreign corporation has an unfair advantage over national corporations, due to receiving government subsidies from the non-laissez-faire country in which it is located. This doesnt imply that anyone is trying to kill US citizens.

edit: oh sorry, I didnt notice that you were only referring to this particular tariff.

That line of reasoning always interested me. What is an "unfair advantage"? Assuming the non-laissez-faire country is subsidizing something, basically what you have is the people of that country paying taxes so that people in our country can buy goods at lower prices.

Is the imposition of trade barriers not detrimental to the Objectivist country?

mrocktor

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There is no basis for tarffis to be used to counteract an "unfair advantage." Even if "unfair advantage" was an actual threat to trade, which it is not, a proper government exists to protect citizens against the initiation of force. International trade, barring war-like situations, has nothing to do with the initiation of force against citizens.

Basically, you are saying that if country A subsized cars, for example, that selling them to customers in country B represents some kind of "unfair" harm to carmakers in country B. But carbuyers in country B are perfectly free, and have the right, to buy cars from wherever they wish. They have no obligation to buy from domestic carmakers when cheaper (subsidized) cars can be had from another country. By advocating government imposition of tariffs, you are advocating violating the rights of people to engage in trade as they wish. This is an obvious case of violating the rights of some (carbuyers) to grant an unearned benefit on others (carmakers).

No amount of economic pragmatism can avoid this basic fact.

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That line of reasoning always interested me. What is an "unfair advantage"? Assuming the non-laissez-faire country is subsidizing something, basically what you have is the people of that country paying taxes so that people in our country can buy goods at lower prices.

This is an excellent point. You are correct in the big picture; there is no such thing as an unfair advantage if no force is being imposed on you. However, people don't really look at the big picture. For example:

Let's say George sells cookies and milk, and I'm a milk producer. George can make a killing off of cookies, because they're cheap to produce. His cookies, however, aren't really any better than other cookies, so he doesn't want to spend money trying to market them against the fierce cookie competition. Milk, on the other hand, is a product where people pay more attention to price.

George gets the brilliant idea that if he charges less for milk than anyone else, he can attract people to his store, and sell them cookies. In the end, he'll recoup the expenses incurred from the milk sales with the profits from the cookies, and he didn't even have to compete against the other cookie manufacturers, because they weren't represented in his store.

This is bad news for me, the milk producer. I can't sell my milk for as little as George can, and it seems like I'm going to be out of a job. If I was a typical world citizen, I would accuse George of having an unfair advantage. In fact, George has simply excersized sound business policy, but I don't care.

If I lived in a different country than George, I might push my government to impose a tarriff on George so that I could keep my job selling milk. Who would benefit from this? Me. Who would lose? Everyone in my country, because they would have to pay higher prices for milk than George would have charged them, and George, because he wouldn't have the opportunity to run his successful business operation in my country as well.

Alternatively, I could ask for a government subsidy to help me keep my prices as low as George's. Who would benefit from this? Me, and anyone who didn't have to help pay taxes for my subsidy. Who would lose? George would, because I would be taking business and potential profit from him, and all of the taxpayers who have to pay to support my inefficient practice.

Or worse still, I could accuse George of monopolistic practices...

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Another problem with tariffs is that they cause domestic industries to be less competitive. The former Soviet Union was essentialy a large protected market where domestic producers had no need to compete with firms from other countries. Soviet producers atrophied (predictably) and eventually this type of protected market must collapse.

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That line of reasoning always interested me. What is an "unfair advantage"? Assuming the non-laissez-faire country is subsidizing something, basically what you have is the people of that country paying taxes so that people in our country can buy goods at lower prices.
You are correct when things are considered purely from the consumers point of view. But from the producers point of view, its different. If I am running a business which competes in some market, and one of my competitors is able to undercut my prices and drive me out of business because they are able to utilise stolen money, then I would say that this is unfair. Its one thing to lose customers due to market forces (being 'beaten' by another company with a better business model/tactics), but quite another to lose to someone who has an advantage over me due to participating in rights violations. If youre running a corner shop and the mafia opens a shop opposite you, using money they have gained from illicit activities to keep their prices low and force you out of business, then I think you have a right to feel annoyed.

There's also the question of what obligation the government has towards citizens of foreign countries. While it certainly does not have the obligation to protect their rights, it should not be involved in any activities which actively violate their rights. When it openly sanctions theft by allowing companies which have received stolen goods to compete on a level playing field, you can make a fairly strong argument that it is complicit in the violation of the rights of non-citizens.

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I think governments should be allowed to impose retaliatory tarriffs. If we couldn't, we offer no incentive to drive other states to drop their tariffs if their goods flow freely into our country, and our goods are hurt by their tariffs.

Their goods will flow into our country only if they bring us benefit. When they impose restrictions on the flow of our goods to their country they are hurting themselves. I should know, here in Brazil I can't get a computer for less than twice its price in the USA. How much does constantly working with 2 year old technology hurt the Brazilian economy?

You are correct when things are considered purely from the consumers point of view. But from the producers point of view, its different. If I am running a business which competes in some market, and one of my competitors is able to undercut my prices and drive me out of business because they are able to utilise stolen money, then I would say that this is unfair.

And I would say: take your money and put it into something else. If some foreign non-objectivist country can do it cheaper - let them! If the USA (the people, not the government - which should do nothing) had put its effort into developing those things that China is incapable of doing (creative thought and scientific development does not flourish under duress) instead of trying to "protect" menial labor, the trade balance would be a lot different.

In trying to "protect" factory jobs, government and union action is destroying industry itself.

There's also the question of what obligation the government has towards citizens of foreign countries.

None?

mrocktor

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A question: what (if any) is the objective difference between using stolen money and using legitimate money to run one's own business at lower prices than one could run the business without that money? It seems to me that no distinction should be made because money is money, and people should be free to use their money as they see fit, barring criminal actions (bribes, e.g.). It should not be called criminal to subsidize oneself because that is simply business, and one must be free to subsidize oneself, or do whatever while observing rationality. The crime here is not using funds as one sees fit, but in procuring those funds by violating rationality. Therefore one should have no ill-will toward the mafia over their shop, but over their forceful crimes. It would be folly to shut down their business for their using stolen funds instead of jailing them for stealing.

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  • 1 month later...
What if a foreign country does not respect intellectual property rights? Take China as an example. Would it be appropriate to place tariffs on Chinese goods because they permit the theft of US intellectual property?

Intellectual property is the domain of an individual; in some cases it could be the domain of a private entity, i.e. corporation which has the patent to a product or service. The statement of "US intellectual property" then is a bit misleading as it implies that such property is the domain of the American government, which it is not.

In any case, I perceive the solution to this problem to be that the American corporation whose intellectual property was violated overseas by another company could attempt to file due process either in an American court, and hope that the foreign country would honor such judgment, or file due process directly in such foreign country.

Here's an example of how Starbucks won such a case in China.

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