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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Is the "Capitalist Domino" About to Fall?

Robert Reich says the U.S. should normalize trade relations with Vietnam. I agree:

The New Domino Theory, by Robert B. Reich, American Prospect: President Bush arrives in Hanoi today for discussions about regional economic issues. He would do well to discuss frankly America’s fears about the "dominoes" of Asian capitalism.

You may remember the old domino theory of Asian communism. Four decades ago, American policy makers clung to the idea that the big domino of Soviet Communism had toppled China, and the domino of Chinese communism had then toppled North Vietnam. Unless the United States propped up South Vietnam, it was assumed, all of Indo-China would become communist.

Tens of thousands of Americans died in that war before America got out and let the dominoes fall where they may. But then a strange thing happened. Soviet Communism disappeared. China became the fastest-growing big capitalist nation in the world. And Vietnam became one of the hottest markets in Southeast Asia.

The real domino turned out not to be communism, but capitalism.

Yet the capitalist domino seems almost as threatening to America today as the communist one was forty years ago. This week, Republican leaders in the House called off a vote on a measure that would have given Vietnam permanent normal trade relations with the United States. They didn’t think they could get the votes needed to pass it.

Talk about shooting ourselves in the feet. Early next year, as part of its entry into the World Trade Organization, Vietnam will reduce tariffs on foreign goods and open its telecom and financial services sectors to foreign investment. But as things now stand, America won’t benefit from these measures because Congress won’t normalize trade relations with Vietnam.

Why not?

Some right-wingers still regard Vietnam as a menace. ... Republicans from textile-producing states don’t want cheap fabrics from Vietnam. A majority of House Democrats think Vietnam’s labor standards are inadequate. ... But there’s reason to suspect there’s something more going on here than a vote against trade with that former communist nation.

Congress’s distrust extends beyond Vietnam, to other areas where global capitalism is expanding. Trade bills now pending with several poor countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are also in jeopardy. Don’t expect the next Congress to look on these trade deals more favorably. Many of the newly-elected members campaigned openly and vocally against free trade.

Whether it’s a renewed fear of foreigners, or fear of job losses to them, this nation seems to be turning inward. Sadly for us, as well as for millions of poor people around the world, America may be on the brink of a new Cold War -- with the enemy this time not global communism but global capitalism.

This isn't directly related, it's something I came across while looking into trade issues with Vietnam -- I thought the contrast to the present might be of interest. It's the end of Lyndon Johnson's "address to the nation announcing steps to limit the war in Vietnam and reporting his decision not to seek reelection." It's strange to see a politician putting the nation ahead of their own aspirations:

President Lyndon Johnson's Speech to Nation, March 31 1968: ...Finally, my fellow Americans, let me say this:

Of those to whom much is given, much is asked. I cannot say and no man could say that no more will be asked of us. ...

Yet, I believe that we must always be mindful of this one thing, whatever the trials and the tests ahead. The ultimate strength of our country and our cause will lie not in powerful weapons or infinite resources or boundless wealth, but will lie in the unity of our people.

This I believe very deeply.

Throughout my entire public career I have followed the personal philosophy that I am a free man, an American, a public servant, and a member of my party, in that order always and only.

For 37 years in the service of our Nation, first as a Congressman, as a Senator, and as Vice President, and now as your President, I have put the unity of the people first. I have put it ahead of any divisive partisanship.

And in these times as in times before, it is true that a house divided against itself by the spirit of faction, of party, of region, of religion, of race, is a house that cannot stand.

There is division in the American house now. There is divisiveness among us all tonight. And holding the trust that is mine, as President of all the people, I cannot disregard the peril to the progress of the American people and the hope and the prospect of peace for all peoples.

So, I would ask all Americans, whatever their personal interests or concern, to guard against divisiveness and all its ugly consequences. ...

Through all time to come, I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement. ...

What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people.

Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.

With America's sons in the fields far away, with America's future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world's hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office--the Presidency of your country.

Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.

But let men everywhere know, however, that a strong, a confident, and a vigilant America stands ready tonight to seek an honorable peace--and stands ready tonight to defend an honored cause--whatever the price, whatever the burden, whatever the sacrifice that duty may require.

Thank you for listening.

Good night and God bless all of you.

    Posted by on Saturday, November 18, 2006 at 06:57 PM in Economics, International Trade, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (13)

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