International -- Readers Report
What About the Astonishing Greek Market? (int'l edition)
In "These markets are really emerging" (Finance, Dec. 13), I was amazed to see that all the countries mentioned, with the exception of South Korea, have year-to-date rises from 26% to 62%. Yet nowhere do you mention the Greek stock market, which has enjoyed an increase so far this year of 103%.
AthensReturn to top
Economic "Mixed Systems" Usually Get It Wrong (int'l edition)
Regarding "The Seattle protesters got it right" (Economic Viewpoint, Dec. 20): We in Germany and in other countries of Europe have the daily experience of the perils of a wrong "mix." An endless number of local, regional, and national groups, committees, or organizations freeze things on nearly every level of decision. They decide that "we do not need a McDonald's" in this or that part of the town, protest against new industries, against new roads, against energy plants using any kind of resources (even wind energy), tell you not to drink mineral water and to drink tap water instead, and try by tricky means to enforce rules that more and more people find unreasonable.
Mixed systems are not per se good and can just be a Pandora's box. The discussion should center on the question of the corrective mechanisms of different social systems. Mixed systems can easily use the escape clause of wanting a "better world" if the results are bad. In what I call "competitive capitalism," bad results lead to sanction or punishment. The "consensus system" of a mixed economy has nothing equal to this formidable corrective.
And do not miss the point of freedom. Mixed systems can easily switch to rigid or even oppressive systems, with their mess of regulations that are not coherent and logical. On national and international levels, you risk the development of a net of irrational restrictions in life and business.
I wish that we in Europe were more laissez faire, giving everyone a chance to compete and make the best of her/his skills and ideas. In this context, I see the U.S., not a World Trade Organization influenced by groups in the street, as the great defender of freedom.
The essence of capitalism is fair competition. Many capitalists do not like competition--they prefer monopolies and pricing agreements, or, as it is often phrased, they want to be the "dominant player." Therefore, competition watchdogs and antitrust enforcement are vital. But more is required: Competition should be fair.
Fairness means no corruption, no child labor, adherence to environmental standards, liberty. Fairness does not mean the same salary, pensions, medical insurance, taxes, or working conditions beyond absence of damage to health. Vigorous and fair competition will lead to democracy. There is no example of a country with free and vigorous competition that is not a democracy.
Laurens van den Muyzenberg
South Ascot, EnglandReturn to top
Free Trade Should Be a Two-Way Street (int'l edition)
"Global growing pains" (News: Analysis & Commentary, Dec. 13) is not exact: Although the Group of 7 pushed the rest of the world to open markets to exports, the contrary is seldom seen. Led by the master preacher of liberalism, the U.S., Europe and Japan impose senseless barriers to imports from countries like Brazil. Less developed countries can export commodities, but whenever any value tries to be added to a product, any sign of industrialization is detected, barriers are immediately built to protect the home products.
Germany doesn't grow coffee and has no tariffs on coffee beans but has an 18% tax on instant coffee. Why? Germany exports instant coffee. The U.S. has a tax on shoe imports of 5%, but it gets as high as 10% if the shoe is from Brazil. President Clinton says the Brazilian shoe industry uses slave labor. Little does he know that our plants are constantly inspected by the Labor Ministry, and any line misspelled on an order file is subject to high fines. Yes, let's go for free trade. But on a two-way road.
Brazil's example is disastrous. Despite going by the rules of liberals, most "noncompetitive" industries have been bought by foreigners or shut down, and state-owned industries and services have been privatized. We are feeling the results: the highest rate of unemployment ever in our history, higher consumer prices of those products and services now "privatized," a plunge in their quality, and a negative result in the balance of payments.
Free trade is positive as long as it is implemented by all countries. Globalization is good as long as it is done with consideration for local communities and local businesses.
Sao PauloReturn to top