2010s >> 2019 >> no-1377-may-2019

Letter: Do ‘we’ trade?

Dear Editors

I can’t see what’s so bad about a No Deal and the UK making its own trade deals with whoever it wants under WTO rules (Cooking the Books, April Socialist Standard). A focus on domestic production would be healthy. Why should we desire the import of products we can produce in the UK anyway? Cheapness has always been a Trojan Horse. It may be advantageous in the short-term to import cheap meat or cheap milk, for example, but in the long-term we will pay through the teeth for these items. If the UK loses its farming industry or its farming industry is drastically shrunk by cheap imports and we lose our ability to meet the UK demand for farming produce and we then become dependent on the importation of farming produce, we will see that produce spiral upwards in price. We only need to import what we can’t produce in the UK. So maybe we need to trade less with the world and promote domestic production. However, the profit imperative in the economy disallows for this focus on domestic production. If only we could analyse the nature of global economics as we have with Brexit then we might realise there are better alternatives to globalisation and the insane pursuit of profit rather than production for human need.

Louis Shawcross, Hillsborough, Northern Ireland.

Reply:

Who do you mean by ‘we’?  You write as if everyone living in Britain is part of a community sharing a common interest. It’s not just you of course. This is how most people at the moment see things, referring to Britain as ‘we’. ‘We export this’, ‘We import that’. ‘We spend too much on defence’, ‘We let in too many immigrants’ and such like are frequently heard in political conversation. But we, the many, the majority class of wage and salary workers, don’t do any of these things. It’s ‘they’, the few, who own and control productive resources, who do. Everywhere, and not just in Britain, society is divided into this few and the rest of us whose interests are antagonistic to each other. It’s them and us, and them versus us and vice versa. There is no common ‘we’.

So, it wouldn’t be us, the many, who would be trading on WTO terms. We are not part of the EU customs union or its single market. They are, and they’ve got into a huge mess since a referendum vote to leave the EU as their political representatives in parliament can’t agree on what this means.

The leading advocates of ‘leaving on WTO terms’ wouldn’t agree with the trading arrangements you are proposing that Britain outside the EU should adopt. They are ‘free traders’ who want more not less globalisation. The more dogmatic of them want to remove all tariffs on imported goods, i.e. abolish all protection for home industries including agriculture, even though this is not practical politics. But what you propose isn’t either, precisely because, as you hint at, this would be incompatible with what was most profitable for British capitalism as a whole. It would divert investment away from industries that could make higher profits from producing goods for export. It would raise the cost of living for workers and so mean that employers would have to pay higher wages, so undermining the competitiveness of both exports and home-produced goods.

There are no national solutions to the problems capitalism causes as capitalism is a single world-wide system. No one country can cut itself off from this or escape from the pressures of the world market. People may think up ideal trade policies and governments may try to implement them but capitalism has its own relentless logic of ‘profits first, otherwise economic downturn’ to which governments must ultimately submit.

In socialism, which too will be a world-wide system, materials and finished products will of course still be moved from one part of the world to another but this won’t be on the basis of trade, where what is moved to one part has to be in exchange for something of equal monetary value from that part. It will simply be a question of goods being moved from where they are produced to where they are needed. Logistics will replace buying and selling and profits won’t come into it. It is only on this basis that production can be freed, as you want, from the insane pursuit of profit and be geared instead to meeting human need–Editors.