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<nettime> RE: form
Hengdorn_Maedford_Sumatra-Bang on Sun, 16 Feb 2003 18:25:54 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> RE: form

Dear Jeffrey,

Well, this is quite a discussion, this discussion of ours. And now we have
come to a question. There seems to be an uncertainty: is reducing tariffs
and barriers always a positive thing? usually? sometimes? Is it true, as
you say, that doing so "enables the world to be more productive and for
all to live more comfortably"?

I would like to suggest two sources of information which will help us to
generate a response.

First is the following lecture on detariffication regimes as applied to
Third World countries by far wealthier ones:
http://www.gatt.org/resources/agri-e.pdf. Although you will note that this
text is by no means in class-A condition, it may be sufficiently ripe to
transmit the urgency felt by the specialists.

As you can see, "comfortable" is not in the cards for some hapless

But what of "productive"? A second document may give us a clue: the
partial list of statistics at http://www.gatt.org/trastat_e.html. It
emerges, sadly, that many barrier-lowering schemas--because they are de
facto imposed by the wealthiest countries upon the least wealthy--have as
beneficiaries only the former. "Productive" finds itself so oddly
defined--raw materials yes, manufactured materials no, etc.--that it
becomes tantamount to "best for the rich," and a mechanism for extracting
the most for the least from the poorest.

Protectionism (we can simply call it "sovereignty") then emerges as the
only possible line of defense against predation masquerading as
free-market theory.

But of course that (theory) is what we (WTO) exist to enforce.

This brings us to the second point of discussion to which we've been
brought: is it better for a young person to work within a corrupt and
putrefying miasma of once-good intentions rather than outside of same?
just because it (miasma) exists? "Men make history, but not in
circumstances of their own choosing," said Marx, as you note. But one
should not necessarily count on the production of positive history when
choosing to engage with miasma.

As Marx also said, "Military justice is to justice what military music is
to music" (especially germane in these days of free-market flex-fest,
don't you think?). Similarly, neoliberal thinking is to thinking what
torture is to compassion. Unfortunately, many universities today prefer
torture, and that is the greater pity in preparing the next generation of
leaders for a world of increasing inequality, more desperate poverty, and
new dangers of every last stripe.

As Marx didn't say, "Wagner's music is better than it sounds." And perhaps
the only thing one can lead a horse to is water, so if you insist on
joining in our cacophony, here is what you should do:

* download the form at http://www.gatt.org/resources/i_form_e.doc

* fill it out

* e-mail it to humanresources {AT} wto.org.

Please keep me apprised of your progress.

With very best wishes,

On Wed, 12 Feb 2003, Wolf, Jeffrey wrote:

> Hengdorn:
> I: I shall start with your conclusion. There are three reasons I wish to
> work for the WTO/GATT:
> First, I am reminded of a quote from Marx. Unfortunately it is unavailable
> to me right now, but it goes something like: "Men make history, but not as
> they like; they make it as they find it..." Basically, they deal with the
> pre-existing structures of power and exchange. The WTO represents those
> structures, and it seems likely to continue. Accordingly, it makes sense to
> work within it rather than to disclaim it entirely. Another quote, this one
> from Bismarck, to be found on the very last page of Kennedy's "Rise and Fall
> of the Great Powers," goes something like: "We are adrift on the river of
> time, but we can still paddle." Even if the WTO contains flaws, these flaws
> are streams within which we can still paddle, and these may be the most
> profitable and convenient means of arriving at a desired destination.
> Second, when all is said and done, everything else being equal, I believe
> that free trade and exchange is a positive thing. Reducing tariffs and other
> barriers to trade is a positive thing. It enables the world to be more
> productive and for all to live more comfortably. There is no need for an
> either-or dichotomy between a completely neoliberal regime or a completely
> statist regime; there is room for a "third" (or fourth or fifth...) way as
> well, in which one can hopefully incorporate increased total prosperity with
> increased distributive and social justice. 
> Third, the WTO is something I study currently in class in law school.
> International politics is something I studied as undergraduate in college.
> The world, its politics and its economics is something I try to stay abreast
> of constantly. These are the issues that drive me; these are the issues that
> intrigue me; they have since I was a boy around the age of eight, reading
> newsmagazines, and they will until my demise (whenever that shall be). The
> WTO is one of those places where the action is. It is where I would like to
> be. Moreover, I suppose any experience I would gain would be useful either
> working with the federal government (such as the Trade Representative's
> office), local government (helping state or municipal government arrange
> trade relations), or in private practice as an attorney. Conversely, should
> I continue with more schooling to obtain a doctorate and become an academic,
> real-world experience with a major multilateral NGO would be beneficial
> there as well. But once more, I wish to be where the action is, and the WTO
> certainly qualifies.
> To answer your question explicitly, then, I do not really conceive of myself
> intending either to renew the WTO or to learn from its failures. This is
> because I find myself in accord with its basic premises, despite the
> difficulties our conversations have exposed these to possess. Ultimately, I
> make very modest claims. My goal would be simply to observe what I could, in
> recognition of my lack of relevant knowledge and experience. Should a
> thought occur to me that I think relevant and appropriate, naturally I will
> voice it. But for the most part, I would be conscientious of my limited role
> as "summer help," and simply remain grateful for the opportunity to watch a
> major NGO in action, and to store and assimilate it into my knowledge base
> for present and future use.
> II: Second, with respect to health care, let me make the following two
> points.
> The first is that you most certainly have my sympathies on this issue. As a
> middle-class university graduate student, I have been the beneficiary of
> excellent health care for all of my life, as have my family as well as many
> if not most or all of my friends. Yet I have never understood why others
> should be deprived of this solely on account of having less money. Certain
> things are held to be fundamental human rights worthy of preservation and
> accorded to all citizens, irrespective of their social status or economic
> capital; is not freedom from curable pain and discomfort one of these
> things? A good friend of mine who has read Richard Epstein's "Mortal Peril"
> warns me that this argument is easily-countered, and I must concede I myself
> can become rather susceptible (at least on an intellectual level) to
> libertarian arguments. That said, in sum, I support universal health care
> for all Americans, and regret that the Clinton Health Plan failed.
> Which leads to my second point: are you sure unabashed plutocracy suffices
> as an explanation for "the ways things are?" I concur that policy outcomes
> reflect a combination of means, interest and strategies (and probably other
> variables as well), but these are muted, modified and transformed by
> collective action issues and the like. For example, organized labor in the
> US, even if in decline, still represents a substantial force with which to
> be reckoned. A more cynical me might question whether the absence of health
> care for the poorest Americans actually represents the abandonment, by
> unions, of their least-skilled, least-able fellow citizens. My more basic
> point, though, is that pure plunder by the plutocracy may be a somewhat
> crude model for understanding social phenomena.
> Thanks,
> Jeff
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Hengdorn Mford Sumatra-Bang [mailto:hengy {AT} gatt.org] 
> Sent: Wednesday, February 12, 2003 6:28 PM
> To: Wolf, Jeffrey
> Subject: RE: form
> Dear Jeffrey,
> Of course you are right--the rationales for wealth-mongering have always
> been complex and varied, and have never themselves directed the mongering:
> rather, the wealthy have always deployed these opportunely, flexibly, and
> with cleverness.
> Indeed, it has never been a case of "God commands to cream the poor" or
> "Nature suggests to crush the unfortunate," but rather "We have found it
> correct to cream/crush the unfortunate poor, and Nature/God doth find this
> most meet." Let us thus place the hegemony where you say it belongs:  
> squarely upon the plutocracy, rather than on the orthodoxies that furnish
> its ever-shifting justification.
> Your second point is also quite attractively put. Indeed, countries with
> governments that do things for people seem to have happier people; some
> concern and control by the state seems to be better (for people) than the
> law of the financial jungle.
> But the "planned economy" I referred to, that characterizes today's most
> neoliberal countries, is not one planned by a state with the accord of its
> citizens, but rather is planned by the "winners," i.e. the largest
> corporations, precisely because of the democratic state's planned absence,
> an absence planned by those same corporations.
> The health care system in the United States is an excellent example, where
> the largest HMOs have planned an absence of decent alternatives for all but
> the fairly well off, leaving everyone else with health care far below the
> standards of Western Europe or Japan, or, alternately, with no health care
> at all.
> This is the law of the jungle writ small!
> In any case, both of these points bring us back to the initial moments of
> this discussion of ours, in which I so brutally misunderstood your interest
> in the WTO's "vacant positions" as an interest in those intellectual
> contentions of ours that do not hold water, of which I cited two examples:
> our positions (a) that the abolition of government intervention will yield
> prosperity, and (b) that fewer laws against pollution will make the air
> cleaner.
> Over the course of our speaking, you have been privy to the exposition of at
> least five or six more such positions that we at the WTO insist on yet that
> hold no water at all. And you have observed us wandering into the realms of
> absolute heresy to find an appropriate fundament, having lost our way
> everywhere else.
> Under these conditions, with your eye so priviledgedly on our bankruptcy, I
> ask you now: what, given such corruptness as ours, might you see as useful
> or interesting in an engagement with us? Is there a way you might help us to
> hew a renewed plan of hope and/or action, something based more in reality
> than our ever-mired past footsteps? Or do you simply wish to learn what you
> can from our failures?
> Any or all of these are acceptable. In each case, there can resound a clear
> "Why not?"
> With an eye to the future, always, and despite all with hope, Hengy
> On Mon, 10 Feb 2003, Wolf, Jeffrey wrote:
> > Hengdorn:
> > 
> > Your e-mail certainly raises issues on many levels. It is difficult to 

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