Monday, June 12, 2006

A Quote

‘Commerce is not a sin. Trading with emerging countries is not a sin. Trade helps them to emerge as a matter of fact. It makes reforms possible. The kind of reforms we all want. It brings them into the modern world. It enables us to help them. How can we help a poor country if we’re not rich ourselves?’


‘I beg your pardon?’

‘[…] Look around you. Trade isn’t making the poor rich. Profits don’t buy reforms. They buy corrupt government officials and Swiss bank accounts.’

John le Carré (2005) The Constant Gardener, Penguin Canada: Toronto, p 61.

1 comment:

HV said...

This is an interesting quote. I think it depends on the meaning of 'trade' (sorry to get all studenty on you!) Trade itself isn't exploitative: Marx showed exploitation happened in the realm of production, not exchange.

I think the 'underdevelopment' school puts it back in the sphere of trade - unequal terms of exchange. Which is a good point, as long as it recognizes the basis for those unequal terms: the huge disparity of ownership between rich & poor nations. If trade barriers come down, then those who own & produce more will win over smaller economies, due to their relative weight. Trade comes to be exploitative due to the already-existing structures of inequality.

I think this point is important to combat the 'Make Trade Fair' types, who think that by simply rearranging the terms - paying farmers more, for example - they can eliminate inequality. Certainly those are good ideas, but they're reformist: as long as capitalist ownership isn't touched (i.e. the relations of production), no amount of trade reform will dent exploitation.

It's also interesting to consider how central trade was to the Bolshevik concept of world revolution. Lenin thought the Russian Revolution depended on an international upsurge across Europe: the richer Bolshevik countries could then trade with Russia, ending underdevelopment. Of course, socialist trade would be on the basis of need, not profit: but it shows how exchange itself can be harnessed to something different, when the underlying productive relations have changed.

Glad you're back in the blogosphere!