Thursday, June 29, 2006

Inflation and CBs 1: Central Banks Can Be Anti-Globalists

When the price of certain goods and services is rising, the old but realiable law of supply and demand has an explanation. This means either or both of two things happen:
a) Fast growth in demand relative to their supply due to increase in consumers' income, change in their tastes and preferences, other reasons; and/or
b) Shrank or decreased supply (both local and global supply) relative to stable or increased demand due to natural disasters that wiped out harvests, big fires/terrorist attacks that destroyed the production plants, and other reasons.

These temporary "market failures" also create market solutions. A rise in the price of certain goods and services would invite entrepreneurs and businessmen to go and supply those commodities to cash in potentially high profits, even temporarily.

Now comes central banks (Federal Reserve, Bangko Sentral, etc.) and their inflation-targeting policies and philosophies. When a central bank rushes in to "control inflationary pressure" in the economy, it has lots of tools in its wings that it can manipulate: reduce money supply by raising overnight rates of commercial banks, raise their required reserves (RRs), among others. When this happens, this also squeezes short-term credits to entrepreneurs who would have otherwise put up new firms, or expand existing companies' operations, to supply certain goods and services that experience supply gap or reduction, whether temporarily or permanently.

It is possible to have hyper-inflation (very high rise in prices) in some commodities and deflation (reduction in prices) in other commodities, all happening at the same time. For instance, a hyper-inflation in school supplies (say the 2 largest manufacturing plants and suppliers were gutted by fire) and a deflation in burgers, pizza and softdrinks (say Coke, Pepsi, McDonald, Burger King, Jollibee, dozen other companies engaged in a sudden and fierce price war). In this case, there is no need for national government or central bank interventions to stabilize prices.

Recently, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), also known as central bankers' bank (not the IMF), cautioned central banks around the world to prepare to raise interest rates due to (i) rising global inflationary pressure, and (ii) vulnerability to "bang" in market turbulence. Let's take these one by one.

The main drivers of global inflationary pressure are (a) high and volatile oil prices, and (b) still insufficient trade liberalization across countries. There aren't much the world can do on (a) partly because some poor countries have experienced fast economic growth (think of China and India alone) and their people are buying vehicles and boats and appliances left and right. Oil refineries are also not catching up fast enough (no thanks to hurricanes Katrina and others) to supply big demand. There are other reasons for the high world oil prices.

On (b), many countries, or more appropriately, politicians and trade negotiators of those countries, would only blame their counterparts in other countries, that is why they are closing off a big portion of their economies from foreign imports of certain commodities. That is, they are depriving their citizens of more options. These imported commodities (which are just surplus production in the exporting countries, are cheaply produced there) could have reduced inflation, even result in temporary deflation, for the sectors/commodities of the importing countries if only they allowed those goods to enter. Again, no need for national governments and central banks to come and intervene.

Central banks, the BIS and US Fed particularly, think they must make borrowers poorer by raising their cost of borrowing; by making the cost of money for business expansion that should help boost supply that should fight inflationary pressure, more expensive. After all, they are waging a holy war against global inflationary pressures.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Welfarism 5: Germany's Tax Hikes

Three weeks ago, May 12, I wrote this:

The government of Chancellor Angela Merkel found a solution to address Germany's financial needs to retain its expensive welfarism programs while avoiding budget deficit of 3 percent of GDP or higher -- by raising VAT from 16 percent to 19 percent. Taxpayers in the private sector naturally, raised howl as their money will buy less since the government will siphon off nearly 1/5 of the retail prices of the goods and services that they will consume. They protest, and rightly so, that their government has deemed it more important to raise already high taxes, than cut expenditures and pursue painful but necessary reforms in social security and the labor market.

The projected increase in government revenue from such 3 percentage point increase in VAT would be E8.1B ($10B) this year.

In addition, the government will also scrap selected tax rebates for individuals and introduce a 3 percentage-point top-up tax for high earners. In effect, this package of "tax reforms" is a double whammy of hikes in both income tax and consumption tax! Boy, if you're a politician and a high level government bureaucrat, what more can you ask? You got most of the money you want, forcibly taken away from the pockets of citizens, and spend that money on whatever programs you have in mind. From retaining if not expanding the already expensive welfare programs, to paying off large debts (principal + interest) accummulated through the years again, to finance the elaborate domestic welfarism and external military and foreign aid expenditures.

* But on the EU front, Ms. Merkel proposed slashing EU legislation by 25 percent in an effort to shrink the EU bureaucracy and encourage entrepreneurship (, May 11, 2006, "Germany proposes cutting EU laws by 25%", by Bertrand Benoit).

Ms. Merkel ran on promises of more competition, smaller bureaucracy and tax cuts. Eight months into the office and she has already hiked VAT from 16 to 19 percent, effective January next year. In the works is another tax hike, possibly in income tax.

Why the double-whammy of tax hikes? You bet it, to finance welfare hikes. The new plan is to spur birth rate, to arrest the "greying" of the population, and encourage working women to have a family then return to work. This will necessitate expanding the already expensive and bureaucratic health care system, to cover children that would cost from €16 to €25 billion, or $20 to $31 billion.

Currently, around 90 percent of German adults are insured through 250 health care insurance companies, a system that eats up money with little accountability. Patients in the public system do not receive bills. Instead, the doctor is reimbursed through the patient's public insurance company. Conversely, in the private health insurance system, patients receive a bill that meticulously records the cost of each treatment.

Again this is another kind of "social engineering" by the politicians and the dominant political parties. They did some social engineering in the past, something that discouraged people from having bigger families, or from having a family in the first place. So, this new round of social engineering is to reverse that, to encourage people to have more babies, so that those children will work someday to finance the unfunded social security and health care currently enjoyed by their grandparents, and in a few years to be enjoyed by their parents.

If falling birth rate, and expensive, bureaucratic public health care are the problems, then I think new round of tax hikes and more welfare are not the answers. Instead, the government should (a) loosen the welfare system and cut taxes, allow individuals and households to assume greater responsibility for their families, from education to housing and health care. And government should (b) relax entry of migrants from other countries when demand for them by households and the citizens increased. How would these twin moves help encourage bigger families?

When parents have bigger disposable income and immigration is relaxed, they will hire nannies and domestic workers from abroad who will help them take care of their kids and the house while the couple is working and partying sometimes.

I have a German friend, a lawyer, who married a beautiful Filipina, also a friend, and they live south of Munich. They have a handsome son with a good Euro-Asian features (white skin, black eyes, and so on). Their son is a bit sickly sometimes, and the wife can possibly work if she wants to. So I asked my German friend why they will not hire a Filipina nanny to help them with the kids and household work. After all, the wife can find someone in the Philippines whom they can trust very well, and the pay is not expensive. My German friend said, "No Nonoy, it's very expensive to hire a nanny here. I can pay for her monthly pay, but I will also have to pay for her health insurance, social security insurance, unemployment insurance, and many other government-required insurance and welfare programs." Well, not to mention the difficulty of getting a work visa in Germany.

Germany's welfare vs. tax woes is a good case to watch for those in many poor countries. Many of our politicians, NGO and labor leaders, academics and media people, some businessmen, and foreign aid staff and consultants, "envy" the extensive welfare system of Germany and many European countries. They want to replicate many of those system in their respective poor countries, to "fight poverty". And so they are all one in justifying high and multiple taxes, especially in "taxing the rich", so the poor can be given generous welfare, from free education (elementary to university) to free hospitalization, and so on.

I say to them: don't arrogate personal responsibilities to the "collective"; don't assign parental responsibilities to government responsibilities; and don't confiscate parents' incomes for government and politicians' funding.

Related story, see

* See also:
Welfarism 1: Dependence vs. Individual Responsibility, October 17, 2005
Welfarism 2: France Riots, Taxes in Welfare States, November 17, 2005
Welfarism 3: Spiraling Costs and Rent-Seeking, April 21, 2006
Welfarism 4: Italy's Fiscal Woes, Kid Glove to Criminals, May 29, 2006

Monday, June 26, 2006

Pol. Ideology 5: Have Movements for Liberty Progressed?

Prof. Tibor Machan, a faculty at Argyros School of Business & Economics, Chapman University, and a researchfellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, wrote a paper, "Are we making progress?". Here's a portion of his paper:
OK, but when compared to what statists are doing, is this anywhere sufficient to advance the cause of liberty? Is it only that the pie ofintellectual activism is growing, with everyone having pretty much the same percentage of a slice of it as forty years ago or is the percentage of the slice with libertarian content growing compared to the rest?... 
I think most of those who have devoted much of their energy to studying and defending the free society, in various areas of specialty or in the mostgeneral terms, would wish to know just how the movement is faring. I am sure those who are championing opposite ideas and ideals would also like to know how well they are doing in the war of ideas. I do know that some have reached great influence, for example, with the United Nations, The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and similar outfits. And they have no compunction about utilizing money extorted from the rest of us to promote their agenda....
From my observations in my country, as well as what I can gather from some friends abroad, my gut feel tells me that the answer to the question, "is the percentage of the slice with libertarian content growing compared with the rest?" is NO.

While it is true that the number of free market think tanks around the world is expanding, so is the number of statist think tanks and organizations. From NGOs to government think tanks and multilateral, foreign aid think tanks. In the Philippines for example, for every free-market oriented think tank that is created, there are at least a hundred NGOs, pressure groups and think tanks that advocate continued big, if not bigger, government intervention in the economy and society.

Another indicator that I consider in saying the rather pessimistic answer, is the ratio of government spending (G) as a percentage of GDP. This ratio will somehow tell you how strong is the intellectual influence of free market think tanks and individuals in shaping public policy, especially in the dollars and cents aspect of government expenditures and taxation, in each country. The more successful the the free marketers are, the G/GDP ratio should be declining through time. The less successful they are, the ratio will either remain flat if not increase through time. Below are some relevant data.

General Government* Expenditures as % of GDP, 2002 (unless year is specified)

Sweden 56.7%
Denmark 55.9%
France 52.4%
Austria 51.2%
Belgium 49.7% (2001)
Germany 48.6%
Netherlands 46.6%
Italy 46.4% (2000)
UK 40.8%
Switzerland 35.4% (2001)

Poland 42.9%
Czech Rep. 42.2%
Slovak Rep. 40.0%
Russia 37.0%

Australia 35.7%
S. Africa 32.2%
Thailand 21.1%

(source: IMF, Government Finance Statistics Yearbook, 2003)

* General government = central/national government + state/provincial & municipal governments

Data is not available for the US, Canada, Japan, China, other big economies. Only central government expenditures as % of GDP is available, but this will not make data comparison possible because general government includes expenditures by state/provincial and local government units (LGUs).

For the Philippines, expenditures of the national government is around 18% of GDP. If expenditures by LGUs (because they also raise their own taxes and revenues on top of transfers by the national government) are included, it could be around 22% of GDP.

Now, these numbers often do not include unfunded social security and medicare or health claims, both present and future claims. This is an indicator of how welfarist and nanny-statist governments are. That is, the extent of what should have been personal and parental responsibilities, have been arrogated to the "collective" as social and government responsibilities. And so, the higher the ratio, the more welfarist, the more government responsibilities, and the lesser personal responsibilities, are assigned.

Here, the numbers can be scary. For instance, it's about 200% of GDP in France. In the US, unfunded social security and medicare claims is estimated to be $36 trillion, or around 300% of GDP. When public debt and other traditional federal liabilities are included, the total U.S. federal debt is over $46 trillion, or nearly 400% of GDP!

So, if my personal assessment that the movements for liberty and free market have not progressed as fast as the movements for big government (local, national, international), does it mean that we're weak and not doing well enough? I don't think so. Maybe many of us have not yet dwelt into the harder campaigns for lesser government responsibility and lesser taxation.

About statist intellectuals and think tanks reaching far high in justifying high and multiple taxes in many countries partly to finance giant international bureaucracies like the UN, WB, IMF, ADB, and other foreign aid bodies and agencies, they are indeed successful. That is why think tanks who call themselves "free market-oriented" should not live off on funding from foreign aid money, money taken from the pockets of citizens of rich countries. Because if they should go into the hard campaign of tax cuts and smaller government, being indebted to foreign aid money will be a hindrance.

* See also:

Pol. Ideology 4: Comments to Minimal Government Manifesto,  December 05, 2005

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Spontaneous Market 3: No Nurses' Brain Drain

There's a short but clear argument why nurses' migration from the Philippines and other poor countries to the rich countries should not be considered as "brain drain", but a positive thing for the country of the departing nurses. Mr. Michael Clemens posted (May 25, 2006) in
and argued the following:

"Nurse Drain A Problem? Think Again

The effect of nurse emigration on the countries of origin is not that simple, despite yesterday's somber New York Times piece, "U.S. Plan to Lure Nurses May Hurt Poor Nations." Yes, the Philippines has been the world's top exporter of nurses for decades, but today it has more nurses than almost any other country in its income group. According to the World Health Organization (PDF), it actually has more nurses per capita than Great Britain. Why? Because there is no such thing as a fixed quantity of nurses to be "drained" from the Philippines or Africa, like petroleum from the ground. People -- in this case mostly low-income women -- react to global markets and change their career plans accordingly. Many Filipinas wouldn't have become nurses if not for the migration opportunity, and thus are not 'lost' in any sense when they depart. Africans are starting to follow suit, opening career paths for professional women who would otherwise have few. This should not be discouraged through closed immigration policy, but rather taken advantage of -- through the establishment of for-export nurse training programs as the Philippines has done en masse. Unlike petroleum, these women are human beings. They have rights and ambitions whose fruition in the United States is a beautiful thing."

Mr. Clemens is right. In the Philippines now, many career people shift to nursing so they can easily be hired in the US, Canada and UK. Physicians and doctors, engineers and architects, lawyers and managers, teachers and civil servants, among others, have shifted career, studied nursing, passed the nursing board exams, and waited for their turn to be hired abroad.

The supply of nursing students have greatly increased, and the number of private colleges and universities, as well as private hospitals offering BS nursing, have also increased. There will be no "under-supply" in the nursing and health professionals in the Philippines as there is a steady stream of new students and other professionals shifting career to the health sector. Although admittedly, there are some short-term problems, like large-scale exodus of experienced nurses and doctors from provincial hospitals, creating an immediate "vacuum" of experienced health professionals in some parts of the country.

But there are also short-term and immediate gains, like ever-increasing remittances of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) back to their families. Total remittances via official financial channels in 2005 was $10.7 billion, and estimated remittances via friends and other unofficial channels is at least $3 billion more. This year 2006, projected remittances will reach $12 billion, or an average of $1 billion a month, excluding several billion $ of remittances via friends and unofficial channels.

In addition, some sick and well-off people in rich countries who get impatient with protectionism of their countries by limiting the entry of foreign nurses, doctors and other health professionals, come to the Philippines' many hospitals and private clinics for medical treatment and check-ups. This phenomenon is now called "medical tourism", and there are a number of local and foreign entrepreneurs wanting to cash in on this emerging phenomenon.

There are also a number of plans and projects on-going to develop "retirement villages" in some parts of the Philippines, where retirees and old people from other countries, as well as returning Filipinos who have worked abroad for decades, can stay and retire. Health caregiving and nursing are essential components of those retirement villages.

Finally, many of those nurses and physicians who have worked abroad for many years come back home, not as nurses and physicians, but as businessmen and entrepreneurs, or at least managers, of new or expanded hospitals and clinics for medical tourism and retirement villages.

Overall, there is no such thing as "brain drain". Only short-term reallocation of human resources, and long-term gains of freeing people to seek their own fortunes, and remitting back savings and investments into their folks and families in their home countries. These are all part of spontaneous reallocation of resources and individual or household priorities.

* See also:
Spontaneous Market 1: Profit, Trade and Personal Responsibility, May 22, 2006
Spontaneous Market 2: Market Failure vs. Government Failure, June 07, 2006

Friday, June 16, 2006

CSOs and State 1: AIDS and Perversion of Welfare

There was a very disturbing news from the Wall Street Journal last April about AIDS. It was entitled,

"Dangerous DecisionIn South Africa, Poor AIDS Patients Adopt Risky Ploy"
To Get Disability Payments, Some Skip Medications, Putting Lives in Peril
Aiming to Be 'Very, Very Sick'
By MICHAEL M. PHILLIPS April 7, 2006; Page A1

The South African government gives advanced anti-AIDS drugs for free to patients. The pills, antiretroviral "cocktails", would boost one's immune system, relieve symptoms and restore his/her health. In addition, the government gives out a $130-a-month disability grant, if one is really sick.

The results were rather sickening. Some poor people who have bad AIDS situation and receive the allowance from the government stopped taking the anti-AIDS medication so they will remain sick and can continue drawing the allowance. While those who have better or improved conditions have stopped taking the medicines, find ways to be infected further, to get sick further, so they will qualify for the government allowance!

According to Mr. Phillips' report, patients who do this would rather endure terrible sickness just to get the allowance so they will have extra cash to feed their kids, or pay rentals and debts, or start a small business. There are estimated 5.3 to 6.3 million HIV carriers in South Africa.

In economics, you call that behavior of choosing to be sicker to get allowance as "moral hazards" problem. If people know that there are some form of rewards or protection (bail out, subsidies, allowances, stipends, other forms of protection) if they misbehave, then they will misbehave. Well, at least for those who are desperate enough and consider the rewards for irresponsibility better than the pain (physical, emotional, whatever) of such irresponsibility.

In the Philippines and other poorer countries, there are similar behavior.
Here for instance, we have a law that squatters cannot simply be removed from the lands they're squatting on, unless the owner/s of the land (government or private) will find a relocation site for those who will be evicted, facilitate their transfer. In some government relocation sites, government even gives the relocated squatters land titles.

Result? Squatters mushrooming in many places. They just occupy private lands, or government lands. Many private land-owners are more determined to evict the squatters and guard their lots. Government, the biggest landowner in the country, even confiscating some private lands if landowners did not pay the real property taxes plus the high penalties for delayed payment, is more tolerant of squatters. Government leaders for one (from mayors, congressmen, governors to the President) often protect the squatters from eviction so long as the latter will vote for them, and support them if they are experiencing political crisis.

There are also the so-called "professional squatters". When government gives them land titles, they sell that title to other people, get the money, then hop to another lot or location and squat the area, waiting for another round of new land titles to be given to them.

So, people really respond to incentives.
If there are incentives for irresponsibility and misbehavior, or the penalties are too light for misbehavior like stealing, then some people will abuse any government welfare and remain irresponsible.

A friend sent me also an awful news from The Washington Times (date not indicated), entitled
by Karen Palmer.

The disturbing news is that in Malawi and other parts of Africa, people who are potential victims of AIDS, if not already suffering from it, now require "allowance" fees and per diems (effectively, bribes) before they will attend AIDS meetings and seminars that will directly benefit them. The going rate, according to the report, was 1,500 kwachas, or about $10 equivalent per day. And the international NGOs, or UN agencies have started the practice of distributing money to people and local government bureaucrats to entice them to come to their seminars. The report said, "Some blame UNICEF, others blame Oxfam, but no one remembers who first offered envelopes of cash in exchange for attendance. The point, they say, is that now everyone does it. And people say, 'If you don't give us pocket money, sorry, we're not interested.'"

In addition, government officials and civil servants also require payments, "sitting fee" they call it, for them to attend meetings and seminars. Continued the report, "The result is that some HIV workers use training sessions as a lucrative source of income, floating from one workshop to another, shopping around for conferences where participants stand the greatest chance of making a bit of cash."

So if the international NGOs will not give money, no one will come to their AIDS seminars, so what? The NGOs are afraid that they will have no picture and real reports to show to their donors? Then why bother to help people who don't bother to help themselves either, why put in your money (or other people's money)? And the national or local government bureaucrats, why bother to invite them if all they need is "attendance fee"?

It's bad that tax-funded government foreign aid has corrupted the concept of "national development" of many poor country governments. It's equally bad that private-funded NGO foreign aid has corrupted the concept of "personal welfare" of many poor country citizens.

Maybe we should consider the fact that if nature is killing people (AIDS, malaria, TB, and so on) and people don't want to help themselves, then let nature take its course.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Spontaneous Market 2: Market Failure vs. Government Failure

"Market failure", or the failure of the market (the individuals, households and firms who supply and demand certain goods and services) to allocate resources to provide certain human needs and wants, is the single biggest reason why government intervention is justified. And government here ranges from local to national/central government to the UN and foreign aid institutions.

There are two main sources of market failure. First, "public goods" character of a commodity or service. Public goods are those that once provided, it is difficult or impossible to exclude non-paying people from enjoying and free-riding the benefits of such good or service; or the cost of excluding the free-riders is very high. Examples are traffic lights, peace and order, justice administration and rule of law, and national defense for countries with dangerous neighbors. Second are "externalities", positive or negative. Examples of negative externalities are air, water and noise pollution; examples of positive externalities are clean air and cool climate because of the presence of a huge forest or national park, good peace and order condition.

After identifying one "market failure" after another, governments began intervening in many sectors of society. And many people who demand more government intervention forget that it also means new or more taxes, fees and charges; new or more regulations, inspections, registrations, accreditations, other forms of requirements and clearances from the bureaucracy. With valid or invalid reasons to intervene, governments are into infrastructure, utilities, social services, pension, credit and banking, tourism and entertainment, media, and so on.

In fact, it is now difficult or impossible to identify any sector or industry (or sub-industries) of our social and economic lives where there is no government intervention and registration. Even those in the "informal" or "underground" economy do not exactly escape 100 percent of all those government intervention. It's more like out of 10 or 20 registrations, taxes and fees required by government, they only managed to escape 70-90 percent of them.

In public finance theory, the presence of "market failure" is only a necessary but not sufficient condition for government intervention. Because it is highly possible that government will only introduce its own inefficiencies and wastes that will only exacerbate the initial market failure that it wants or purports to correct.

The littany of reports and complaints of government corruption, bribery, plunder, other forms of waste, especially in poorer countries, indeed confirm that government intervention often results in a worse market situation than it wanted to correct. These are now called "government failure", a failure in correcting the initial market failure, a failure in providing genuine public service, which is the only valid and accepted reason for government intervention and taxation.

But instead of government withrawing from those sectors and services where abuses, red tape and corruption are repeatedly noted and reported, "government failure" is addressed by another set of government intervention, by instituting plenty of anti-corruption bodies and counter-check mechanisms and procedures. These moves are essentially pouring more public money to determine how much public money have been stolen and wasted already. The key word being sold to the public is "good governance", meaning more transparency and accountability of public institutions and government officials and personnel. But implied in this formulation is the retention of a big, expansive, and interventionist bureaucracy; only to expect them to behave more transparently.

An option to go "back to the market" and "less government intervention" is far out among the minds and demands of many groups and people, even from those very vocal sectors and individuals that regularly note government failure, like those in media, the academe, NGOs and civil society groups.

There will always be market failure in all spheres of our lives as individuals and communities become more specialized, as tastes and preferences constantly change and evolve. But market failures also create market solutions. An initial lack of supply of a certain food or clothing design that caught the attention of a big section of the public results in entrance of new players and producers of such goods and services where demand is big. Pretty soon, the problem is no longer lack of supply but over-supply. Over-supply sends a signal to various producers and suppliers in the form of declining prices. This signal will force them to innovate, to introduce new designs and formulations, or improve on existing ones, to escape bankruptcy. The market's self-correcting mechanisms guide societies, producers and consumers alike, to allocate resources where they are needed, and stop supplying resources where they are not needed.

Government failures on the other hand, almost always result in more government checks and balances, more bureaucracy, and hence, more taxes and fees to finance the expansion of the bureaucracy. Government failure is more insiduous, more damaging and more disastrous to the lives of people, of private taxpayers especially.

Related topic to government failure is “rent-seeking”. Chapter 4 of the book, "Government Failure: A Primer in Public Choice" written by Tullock, Seldon and Brady (2002, published by Cato Institute, Washington DC), is entitled “The cost of rent-seeking”, written by Prof. Gordon Tullock. Examples of rent-seeking are (a) trade protectionism, where the protected local industry benefits but the local consumers are worse off; (b) private monopolies, and (c) direct income transfers by government where A is taxed and B receives the money.

I would say that around 90 percent of all forms of government restrictions, from erecting rigid labor laws like “expensive to hire, difficult to fire” policies, to expensive welfarism financed by high and complicated taxes, are rent-seeking in nature. They are tying productive people's hands, siphoning off if not outrightly confiscating, their income and savings, and transferred to people often driven by envy and too lazy to accept personal responsibilities on things that ought to be their private domain. The huge government bureaucracy and long layers of politicians that stand in between the people whose incomes are confiscated and the beneficiaries who wait for such wealth transfer eat up precious social resources.

Citizens and taxpayers should assert their their personal liberty, to be freed from various forms of coercions exerted by big governments and their various instrumentalities, by demanding not just "good governance" but more importantly, "less government". After all, less government means less taxes, less bureaucracy, more economic growth and individual freedom.

Voluntary Exchange vs. Forced Exchange

In voluntary exchange, a person comes to another person to offer or sell his/her services like hair cut, massage, tutorial, taxi, cell phone repair, speech writing, and so on; or goods like fruits, vegetables, fish, hammer, nails, hamburger, needle, book, tv, car, bus, boat, and so on. The other guys choose from among those who offer those various goods and services, and pick the ones who offer them good value for their money. Here, no one is coerced to surrender his/her money to someone else, unless there is a corresponding exchange of a satisfying service or commodity given.

Those who offer good quality services and commodities at an affordable and competitive price naturally attracts more clients and customers; through time, those producers and suppliers become bigger, so long as they maintain the quality of their services and the competitiveness of their prices. While those who offer lousy services and bad quality commodities will lose their customers and clients; pretty soon, they will become bankrupt and be forced out of the competition, at least temporarily. Suppliers and sellers know this, so they are compelled by the circumstances, by their environment, not to become complacent producers. In this competitive and non-distorted situation, public and social welfare is served. Those who sell food are forced to sell good quality food. Those who sell their labor are forced to render good quality work. Those engaged in trading and marketing are forced not to over-price their products and services. Those who lend money are forced not to impose very high interest rates.

In forced exchange, people are coerced to surrender their money to a big and armed body or institution. Their salaries are automatically deducted of a certain percentage; their interest earnings in their bank deposits, their gains or profit from selling their house or land or other resources are automatically withheld of a certain percentage. When they consume something like medical and dental check-up, or buy something like soft drinks or gasoline, the price they pay is much higher because of surcharges imposed on the original price of those services and commodities.

Also in forced exchange, even if you do not believe that this and that services should be provided by the big institution, or you believe it should be provided but you do not like the quality of the services given to you, funded by the money that was forcibly taken away from you, you have to bear with them. Even if you do not like the personnel and people assigned to help you because they are corrupt or arrogant or lazy or whatever traits that you do not like, you have to bear with them.

Now, who are engaged in voluntary exchange? And who are engaged in forced exchange? Are they the angels and missionaries for the former, and the aliens and terminators for the latter?

The market -- private individuals, households, firms, voluntary organizations -- are engaged in the former. And government -- national and local government units; executive, legislative and judicial bodies -- are engaged in forced exchange.In the market system of voluntary exchange, the system of rewards and punishment are fast and spontaneous. Those who keep on producing good quality services and commodities at a good price continue expanding, and those who keep on producing bad services and/or selling at unreasonable prices will soon be out of business. No paper work, no bureaucracy, no litigations needed. The incentives and disincentives are very clear and transparent.

In the government system of forced exchange, the system of rewards and punishment are long, managed and bureaucratic. The corrupt and robbers can be rewarded with material wealth and undeserved attention, their shenanigans to be determined in long court proceedings, assuming there will be enough witnesses who will pin them down. Some industrious and efficient ones can be left poor and unrecognized, stuck in fixed incomes and covered by the bureaucratic maze where the ego-trippers get the media attention.

Also in forced exchange, even if you do not need certain services and government personnel assigned in your community or workplace because you think they are unnecessary and costly bureaucracies, you have to bear with them. Their offices and positions have been created already by the higher bureaucrats and politicians, and their annual operating budget have been allocated already, courtesy of the various taxes, charges and fees that were forcibly taken from you. And assuming that you need certain services from government, but you do not like the personnel assigned to perform them because they are arrogant and possibly corrupt, you have to bear with them. They are accountable to the higher officials who recruited and appointed them in their posts, not to "the people", an amorphous and anonymous body who cannot even successfully fight the forcible deduction of their incomes and savings.

Lazy and arrogant government personnel can be kicked out of office, but you have to set aside substantial time and effort, and money of course, to take short leaves from your work and stand up as witness to usually long court procedures.It is therefore important that individuals should assert their personal freedom, their right to voluntary exchange, and to oppose an ever-widening system of forced exchange. Not that people should call for zero government. We need government after all, say to punish the guys who killed your cousin, or raped your daughter, or burned your car, or stole your cellphone, or grabbed your land. Government has an important but limited function in our lives. Its expansion to so many sectors and facets of our lives however, is not only dangerous, but has already wreaked havoc to our lives. The task of asserting our individual liberty is a continuing challenge for us all.

* See also Spontaneous Market 1: Profit, Trade and Personal Responsibility, May 22, 2006

Saturday, June 03, 2006

China Watch 3: World's Largest Traders, 2004

China is now the world's 3rd largest exporter and importer of merhandise goods, next to the US and EU-25 countries.

A. World's largest merchandise exporters, 2004
(in $ billion, except %):

1) Extra-EU (25) exports, 1,203.8, 18.1%
2) United States, 818.8, 12.3%
3) China, 593.3, 8.9%
4) Japan, 565.8, 8.5%
5) Canada, 316.5, 4.8%
6) Hong Kong, 265.5, 4.0%
7) S. Korea, 253.8, 3.8%
8) Mexico, 189.1, 2.8%
9) Russian Federation, 183.5, 2.8%
10) Taiwan, 182.4, 2.7%
11) Singapore, 179.6, 2.7%
12) Malaysia, 126.5, 1.9%
13) Saudi Arabia, 126.2, 1.9%
14) Switzerland, 118.5, 1.8%
15) Thailand, 97.4, 1.5%
16) Brazil, 96.5, 1.5%
17) Australia, 86.4, 1.3%
18) UA Emirates 82.8, 1.2%
19) Norway 81.8, 1.2%
20) India, 75.6, 1.1%
21) Indonesia, 72.3, 1.1%
22) Turkey 63.1, 1.0%
23) South Africa, 46.0, 0, .7%
24) Iran, 44.4, 0.7%
25) Philippines, 39.7, 0.6%

B. World's largest merchandise importers, 2004

1) United States, 1,525.5, 21.8%
2) Extra-EU (25), 1,280.6, 18.3%
3) China, 561.2, 8.0%
4) Japan, 454.5, 6.5%
5) Canada, 279.8, 4.0%
6) Hong Kong, China, 272.9, 3.9%
7) Korea, Republic of, 224.5, 3.2%
8) Mexico, 206.4, 3.0%
9) Taiwan, 168.4, 2.4%
10) Singapore, 163.9, 2.3%
11) Switzerland, 111.6, 1.6%
12) Australia, 109.4, 1.6%
13) Malaysia, 105.3, 1.5%
14) Turkey, 97.5, 1.4%
15) India, 97.3, 1.4%
16) Russian Federation, 96.3, 1.4%
17) Thailand, 95.4, 1.4%
18) Brazil, 65.9, 0.9%
19) South Africa, 57.1, 0.8%
20) Indonesia, 54.9, 0.8%
21) Norway, 48.1, 0.7%
22) United Arab Emirates, 47.6, 0.7%
23) Saudi Arabia, 44.6, 0.6%
24) Israel, 42.9, 0.6%
25) Philippines, 42.3, 0.6%

(source: WTO,

* See also: China Watch 2: China's Tourism, May 17, 2006