11
Feb
12

Localism signals mistrust

Robin Hanson has a neat post up today:

Noting the level of hysterical China-bashing in the WaPo and NYT — and presumably other papers of making up the record — Hanson remarks upon the fact that localism often consists of cutting off one’s nose in a particularly brutal way to spite one’s face:

Often, hostility to foreigners appears as opposition to letting locals buy stuff from foreigners. Yet sometimes it also appears as opposition to letting locals sell stuff to foreigners

Robin doesn’t see a particularly plausible reason for this:

Presumably this stupidity is due to some sort of psychology, but what? Why object to both buying and selling to foreigners? Can people really think both sides are hurt by a trade?

However, I’m cheeky enough to apply Hanson’s Razor to one of Hanson’s posts.

Trade indicates trust.  If I buy from you, it’s because I trust you to deliver the goods (or services) upon which we’ve agreed without trying to cheat me.  If you sell to me, it’s because you trust me to deliver the payment upon which we’ve agreed without trying to cheat you.  As Voltaire wrote:

Go into the London Stock Exchange—a more respectable place than many a court—and you will see representatives from all nations gathered together for the utility of men. Here Jew, Mohammedan and Christian deal with each other as though they were all of the same faith, and only apply the word infidel to people who go bankrupt. Here the Presbyterian trusts the Anabaptist and the Anglican accepts a promise from the Quaker.

So if I trade with someone from China — either buying or selling — it signals a certain degree of trust.  Hostility to trade signals hostility to trust — these people can’t be trusted, you shouldn’t trade with them.  Simple as that.

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2 Responses to “Localism signals mistrust”


  1. February 13, 2012 at 13:17

    Without transport subsidies, we would probably be a lot more local. I am optimistic that some of the localists understand that shipping across the country in a truck is not a cost-effective use of wealth.

    That said, bravo.

    Foreigners often can’t be trusted, but not because they like lying more than domestics. It’s because the culture is different, which means different assumptions, and so everyone gets burned… I find it tragic. Most would rather shut down foreign trade than examine a few assumptions.

    • February 13, 2012 at 13:44

      I am optimistic that some of the localists understand that shipping across the country in a truck is not a cost-effective use of wealth.

      Not the kind of localism I was thinking of (and I’m skeptical that cross-country shipping is necessarily inefficient, but I take your point about transport subsidies distorting shipping costs). The localists I’m thinking of would rather ship widgets from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast than from Vancouver to Seattle (or vice versa), because the latter is “foreign trade” and therefore somehow more costly.


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