Trade is More Than Simple Competitive Advantage

Is free trade synonymous with competitive advantage? Is a country who is positioned itself to trade with another country in the most unilaterally advantageous fashion, merely exercising what in macro economics is referred to as competitive advantage?

Milton Friedman, a staunch advocate for free trade stated in an a column for Newsweek Magazine over 20 years ago, that when imposing preemptive or retaliatory tariffs, “we only increase the hurt to us—and also to them—by imposing additional restrictions in our turn. The wise course for us is precisely the opposite—to move unilaterally toward free trade. If they still choose to impose restrictions, that is too bad but at least we have not added insult to injury.” The message is stay the course on free trade even if the trading partner sets tariffs or trading restrictions on US exports. The goal is always, to paraphrase Adam Smith, ‘in every country, it always is and must be in the interest of the people to buy what ever they want of those who sell it cheapest.’ That is not to say that American industry or labor markets need to be beholden to international economic interest first. Free trade happens when mutually beneficial agreements are reached.

The America First Doctrine

Under President Trump’s administration, competitive advantage practices will always be part of our business practices. But simply maintaining competitive advantage is not synonymous with free trade. American companies, who produce motherboards, for example, can still maintain their competitive advantage, whether it is a highly educated workforce, or proximity to domestic markets etc. Free trade allows those same companies to find markets, in other parts of the globe to trade freely, taking advantage of the competitive advantage they’ve strategically positioned themselves to have in the first place.

Economic theory tells us that maintaining free trade agreements with China is not just advantages to US companies it is the best path forward. Take soy beans for example, China was our biggest trading “partner” and soy bean farmers benefitted from this agreement. Now China has decided not to buy from US farmers in response to our sanctions and those same farmers are feeling the economic impact. Farmer’s loss of revenue is being subsidized by US tax payers to the tune of 4.5 billion dollars. Farmers still employ sophisticated farming methods, vis a vis competitive advantage over other farmers in other international markets, but the competitive advantage is only positively felt when it produces more sales not less.

Under the Trump administration , trade, free trade and fair trade all mean one thing, trade that is above all else beneficial to US economic interests, to achieve a positive sum game. Free trade is viewed as a tool by which leverage can be exercised to strong arm our political and economic partners or foes. Fair trade was to be sought at whatever cost, even if that meant ostracizing current and former trading partners.

Being a US trading partner goes beyond just simply buying and selling of goods, it is maintaining a business climate that is not detrimental to the US economy and multinational companies, such as economic, and social stability which may include things such as Hyperinflation, state intervention in the economy including expropriations, macroeconomic distortions, physical insecurity, corruption, violations of labor rights, and a volatile regulatory framework.

Trading Rivals

What we have now under the current US administration, for example is competitive advantage practices which will always, be part of our business, irrespective of whose in office, but without trading partners instead of rivals American companies and US consumers will feel the impacts.

A purely isolationist economic policy is obsolete in a globalized economic system. The flood gates of trade and opportunity have been opened to every nation, thanks in part to technology. We can’t afford to turn the clock back to a time when technology didn’t exist, as we run the risk of other developing nations leapfrogging American trade and productivity. The markets must remain open is we are to continue to lead in this new world economy.

The Pursuit of Meaning

We continue to ask ourselves the same rhetorical question, and may always ask this question for all the time we have left. No one can seriously have a claim to knowledge as to the purpose and meaning of life. Albert Camus, acknowledged in the Myth of Sisyphus, that men must find their own meaning, even if life itself is pointless and meaningless. The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance, wrote Allan Watts. So too the meaning of life itself.

For millions of years, for most of human existence, life has been, as Thomas Hobs described it, ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ Humans must have acknowledged their dreadful existence, the harsh winters, long droughts, natural disasters, decease, war, famine and the myriad other human catastrophes. How many nights must have they looked up at the night sky and wondered, ‘what is the purpose to all of this?’

The answer is however, open-ended, for which any answer is presumed to be correct. There is no overarching universal axiom. People have been asking themselves the same questions since time immemorial, “who are we, what are we doing here, what happens when we die?” The only goal most living organism share is: “don’t die” – this is true for cockroaches, maggots, fish, reptiles, bacteria and humans.

One thing is almost but certain, in the realm of endless possibilities of what you are now, a highly complex organism made up of chemical bonds and processes may never happen again. Parts of you may come back as carbon chains in trees or in the inorganic material of rocks as minerals, or basic water molecules in acid rain, but it is highly unlikely you’ll be back as a human being. If you’re unlucky you’ll come back as a rat, and if your lucky as a dog. It will never be you, don’t fret, it will be unimaginable fractions of your former self. You will not have the memories of your past life. Since your life now, in merely habit, memories and present experience as Bertrand Russel put it.

How do I know this? I don’t, but the evidence surely points in that direction. Do I wish it was different? But Ofcourse! If we only knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we had an “afterlife” that we knew as surely as we know we will one day die It would be evidence I would accept. Death happens to people in the news, it will happen to your neighbor, it happens to your friends and family, and it will happen to you. We – know – this. What we don’t know if we will live forever.

Find your own meaning in our vast meaningless existence.

An Imaginary Journey Through the Day of the Dead

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I hear a car door close nearby and I look up to see a man step out of his car, who is greeted by another man with a snapping ‘bro’ handshake, who says, “lente oscuro, mariguano seguro.” This disrupts my moment of silence because I don’t laugh but find it cognitively humorous. I see a multitude of people approaching to visit their loved ones at the cemetery for Día De Los Muertos where I had arrived minutes earlier. One quick look around and it is hard not to notice most of the grave stones with Spanish surnames. Are we the only people that die around here? There are many things that can explain that but I decide not to pursue that train of thought. Who knows.

What is noticibly observable are the types of visitation rituals, some come with full picnic gear, and supplies; water coolers filled with burritos, juice drinks, sodas, and other snacks, fold-out chairs and E-Z up canopies, portable speakers and the ubiquitous cell phone devices. “Quieres salsita amor?” a women asks her apparent significant other. Kids play on their electronic devices as sounds of games can be heard emanating from their phones. To the right of me a family of five, whom I presume is the father, mother and their three young children bow their heads uniformly in prayer while at a distance a middle aged women sits, legs crossed looking down at grave stones and picking blades off the grass.

Each pays their due deference to their loved ones as seems appropriate to them. I think of the sadness the surviving kin must feel being the survivors of the departed. But then I realize that in the grand scheme of time and space we are not too far behind. Within approximately 200 years time everyone who is alive today in this snap shot in time will no longer be here and will either have been reduced to carbon dust or buried underground slowly decomposing into organic matter. Every living being’s ultimate demise: death, the cessation of consciousness. But why?

The Turritopsis dohrnii commonly known as the immortal jelly fish is able to regenerate itself to a polyp and restart its lifecycle in perpetuity. The Pinacate beetle can withstand impacts to its exoskeleton shell at more than 1,000 times its own weight. The Penicillium moss generates its own natural antibiotic, disabling an attacking bacterium’s ability to form a cell wall rendering it unable to divide and multiply eventually exploding within. It makes me wonder, could it have been any other way? We could have been like the immortal jelly fish when faced with terminal illness or we could have been able to withstand impacts from car accidents, airplane crashes or industrial accidents and easily walked away from them. The millions of people that died from sepsis or complications from other bacterial infections could have been spared if only the discovery of penicillin from the Penicillium moss had been discovered centuries earlier.

The practicality of these miraculous phenomena not harbored by humans are not science fiction, they exist in nature. I don’t pretend to know why we weren’t endowed with these life saving powers. The answer to these questions will have to wait for now.

I reason, we may not be physically stronger than gorillas, or may not be able to breathe under water, unassisted by oxygen equipment, for more than two minutes without coming up for air, and we may not be able to regrow our failing organs, but we do have one supreme ability that gives us a distinct advantage over other species: imagination. Imagination leads us to ask questions and to seek answers, and affords us the innate ability to dream. I’m interrupted again from my stream of consciousness when I hear a women project her voice as to be heard by the farthest person sitting in the circle of those convened.

“No salgas para fuera porque te va a pegar el aire and you’re going to get fucked up.” I get up, brush the grass blades from my pants and walk past the family still enjoying their picnic. I walk carefully as to not step on grave stones. I ride off imagining things to come, as a boy curiously watches me drive off.

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