Towards A Good Samaritan World

Monday, June 27, 2005


Paul Krugman would like to block China's bid to buy Unocal. Well, sort of:

The China National Offshore Oil Corporation, a company that is 70 percent owned by the Chinese government, is seeking to acquire control of Unocal, an energy company with global reach. In particular, Unocal has a history - oddly ignored in much reporting on the Chinese offer - of doing business with problematic regimes in difficult places, including the Burmese junta and the Taliban. One indication of Unocal's reach: Zalmay Khalilzad, who was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan for 18 months and was just confirmed as ambassador to Iraq, was a Unocal consultant.

Unocal sounds, in other words, like exactly the kind of company the Chinese government might want to control if it envisions a sort of "great game" in which major economic powers scramble for access to far-flung oil and natural gas reserves. (Buying a company is a lot cheaper, in lives and money, than invading an oil-producing country.) So the Unocal story gains extra resonance from the latest surge in oil prices.

If it were up to me, I'd block the Chinese bid for Unocal. But it would be a lot easier to take that position if the United States weren't so dependent on China right now, not just to buy our I.O.U.'s, but to help us deal with North Korea now that our military is bogged down in Iraq.

It's interesting to parse Krugman's phrase: for whose sake would Krugman block the bid for Unocal? I think it's safe to say that Krugman is far more against Bush than he is against the Chinese. I'm inclined to agree with Sebastian Mallaby that "If you look for a convincing reason to block China's bid for Unocal, you're not going to find one," and that on the contrary, the deal is likely to benefit the US. But then, maybe Krugman agrees with that. He recognizes that the US will benefit from the deal, and he doesn't want any benefits to accrue to the country led by the man he hates, George W. Bush. It's the same reason that he's constantly poking needles into a voodoo doll of the US economy.

The Financial Times' comment on the Unocal takeover calls China "rich and popular," and backs it up with this interesting tidbit of information:

According to the 16-nation global attitudes survey by the Pew Research Center in Washington, China is now more popular than the US, in spite of concern about China's industrial strength and the resulting job losses among its rivals. Of the seven European countries surveyed, only Poland favoured the US over China.

Now why on earth would China be more popular than the US? Here we can draw a lesson from the early Cold War that illuminates a link between domestic and foreign policy. In the three decades after 1975, the US became steadily less popular, trailing the Soviet Union. A major reason was racism: the vicious treatment we meted out to people of different skin color at home blackened our reputation in the eyes of people of different skin color abroad. Beginning in the mid-1960s, we purged ourselves (mostly) of racism, and the US and its democratic-capitalist model gradually became more respected, emulated and admired in the world.

Nowadays the main black mark on the US democratic-capitalist model is immigration restrictions. Our creed that "all men are created equal" is hypocritical and hollow as long as we maintain viciously tight restrictions on entry into the country. Right now, millions of illegal immigrants are engaged in a vast project of civil disobedience, living here, working, integrating into our society, but still legally in the shadows. If civil disobedience triumphs over unjust law, as it did in the 1960s, and if we recognize the right of all people to live and work in the land of the free, then our reputation will rise again, we will surpass China, we will remain the leading example and inspiration to the world. If we continue to lock these people into the underworld of illegality, or worse yet if we resort to ethnic cleansing (the slogan "what part of illegal don't you understand?" points in this direction), then China will eclipse us, and rightly so.

If we turn our backs on the traditions symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, we do not deserve to lead the Free World.


  • Are you sure our immigration plicy is the biggest black mark? I mean, compared to whom? I don't think that's how most of the world sees it. Probably our unpopularity has more to do with peoples' natural reaction to what they see as the arrogance of a hegemon.

    Even if we're right.

    By Blogger Nato, at 4:06 PM  

  • The reaction to the arrogance of a hegemon is the most obvious proximate cause of anti-Americanism.

    However, the surge of anti-Americanism is not just a consequence of Bush, of the war in Iraq, or of our reaction to 9/11 generally. Remember the anti-globalization movement of the 1990s, the chief object of whose wrath was America? Remember China's riots against the US in 1998 during the Kosovo War? Most obviously, remember 9/11, when 19 Muslim men were so angry at us they killed 3,000 in the World Trade Center towers? True, those 19 were hardly representative of humanity in general; and in particular, they were not at all representative of the groups that could be won over by a more open immigration policy. Still, vast hatred and ill-feeling against America is out there, and was well before September 11th.

    I read a book called "Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan" a while back. The author had traveled to Baluchistan, one of the poorest parts of Pakistan, a mountainous border province, primitive and poor except when it came to arms, which had flooded the country thanks to the Americans arming the Afghans in the 1980s. The Baluchistanis are your typical Islamist America-haters; and yet they told the journalist that they wouldn't resent America so much if they could study there. Even they would want to study in America. The same goes for other anti-American places like Egypt.

    Most people are probably half-conscious at most of the role that America's immigration restrictions play in instilling their resentment of America. Even if they were fully conscious of it, they'd have reasons not to admit it. First, if you say you hate America for failing to open its borders, you must, for consistency's sake, press to open your own country's borders. Few want to do that. (Fear. And it takes more imagination than most people have time for to envision a world without borders.) Second, it is humiliating, it is a confession to second-class status, it is admitting that your resentment is rooted not only in moral disapproval but in one's personal disadvantage.

    Yet if few will offer immigration restrictions as the reason they resent America, that does not mean their hatred wouldn't lose much of its force if they were lifted.

    When P.J. O'Rourke was in Hong Kong just after the handover to China (see his book Eat the Rich) some Hong Kongers told him they "hated" being ruled by the British. O'Rourke was puzzled, since Hong Kong had been so successful under the British. He mentioned that he had traveled in Vietnam, and encountered very little resentment of the US, even though we had done far worse by the Vietnamese than the British had done by the Hong Kongers.

    "That's different," the Hong Kongers said. "You just killed the Vietnamese. You never snubbed them." There's wisdom in the strangeness of that remark. To be held inferior is the worst offense.

    All men are created equal wrote Jefferson. Jesus went even further, perhaps: "He who is greatest among you will be the servant of all." Our border restrictions are a symbol of our believing we are better than others; they are a system of apartheid whereby the American-born become a privileged class in this world. We were not even a feudal privileged class, which acknowledged the fealty of those below us and took on ourselves a yoke of responsibility for them instead. There was hardly the pretense that our privilege is linked with service, that we bear some responsibility towards those below us in return for our good fortune. We were a privileged class which hardly acknowledged the existence of those below us, which wished not to see them.

    Bush is offering the American nation a higher calling, as champions of freedom abroad, hospitable to guest workers at home. I don't agree with him in detail-- the administration's acceptance of the imperative of "getting the job done" in Iraq shows perhaps a lack of the realism that must serve idealism, and is motivated in part by desires for personal vindication and by sentimental attachment which should have less sway over the wielding of power; and the guest worker program is, of course, far too little on the immigration front for my taste-- but, to deploy an old cliche, his heart is in the right place. Will America answer the call? In foreign affairs the answer is relatively clear: partly. With immigration, we shall see.

    By Blogger Lancelot, at 6:50 AM  

  • An excellent case - I'm not entirely sure it carries, but it clearly has merits as a recipient of elaboration and verification - that probably deserves to be a main blog post. That's my opinion, anyway.

    Also, I rambled a bit about insurgent infighting.

    By Blogger Nato, at 12:23 AM  

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