Sunday, November 11, 2007

Trading With Prometheus

South Korean farmers are erupting in anger over the trade talks with the U.S. Fearful that American produce will flood their market, calling that their livelihoods are threatened and the agricultural sector will collapse. I'm sure such phrasing gets a lot of support in Korea, as labor unions are sympathized here.

But few mind when technology threatens jobs. Farmers rally against imports, not hydroponics: life should be autarkist, but not archaic. Few tears are shed when a new technology wipes out old jobs. Luddites are rare, particularly in today's society. But protectionists always seem to have the ear of the public.

It's strange because trade and technology are functionally the same. In both cases, a good is made cheaper. In both cases, jobs are lost to those that can do the same for less. In both cases, there are winners and losers. In both cases, society changes in unpredictable ways. People are perfectly willing to erect trade barriers to "protect jobs," but the same does not go for outlawing technologies. Such arguments center around the ethics of playing God, not ensuring employment.

If you like technology, if you think it makes us wealthier because it swaps the cheap with the valuable, then you are right. We get to do more with less and we are better off for it. But what difference does it make if the goods transform by man instead of machine?

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