Saturday, April 28, 2012

Market Homeopathy in Mexico

I idled away a pleasant hour the other day listening to a discussion of the damage done by NAFTA to Mexican indigenous peoples.  I won't identify the speaker because I wasn't taking notes and I wouldn't want to impute to her the deficiencies of my own faulty memory.  Anyway, short summary: I think I came in expecting some kind of rant about the crimes of capitalism and it wasn't really that at all.   The speaker was  no great fan of NAFTA but she picked up on a theme dear to my heart: the notion of "market" is not cast in stone; a market is a cultural artifact and  particular markets come festooned with all sorts of bells and whistles. 

 NAFTA does seem to have been quaintly rigged to get the most for the Norteamericanos at minimal cost.  Example: subsidies: the US "level playing field" in ag export comes tilted with farm subsidies that make it possible to undercut the competition.  Example: environmental costs, which the US farmers slough off on, as it were, their downstream neighbors.  Contrast, the speaker asserted, Mexican family farmers who generate positive externalities which also do not get priced into the deal (this one sounds a tad more contentious to me, although I'm willing to give it some thought).  Example: the tortilla market, where (it is said) two firms control over 90 percent of the trade--an idea that still pops my eyes out, because how can you monopolize anything so fungible as a tortilla?  

Whatever: the force of these insults and others like them: is to drive the southern peasants off the family farms into the south and fold them into the hordes descending  on the great wen with its catalog of poverty and dysfunction.

And here is where my memory can perhaps go a bit selective.  Because it sounds like that the only solution to the evils of liberalism here is the homeopathic therapy of more liberalism. I found myself muttering--well, if you had to choose just one, which would choose to get rid of: subsidies, externalities or the tortilla conspiracy?  And is there a fourth choice?

The speaker also talked, if I heard aright, about the need for more publicity about problems of this sort, and for more by way of international intervention. The first strikes me as a tasteless joke, in that if "getting more information to the people" were the problem, then we would have solved our problems years As to the second--well, I should have thought perhaps the excesses of globalism had already gone far enough.

And one final question: has anyone since the domestication of the bottle gourd actually wanted to live as a peasant? Okay, I give you Wendell Berry, but anyone else?.


dilbert dogbert said...

We spend the cold months down in Loreto Baja. Biking around town we visited a one woman tortilla factory. How the hell can that market be cornered by two companies when one woman can mfg and distribute all the tortillas in Loreto.

dilbert dogbert said...

Oh Shit! forgot about my friend who got NAFTA'd off his nice little avocado orchard down in SoCal. As they say what goes around comes around.