Thursday, 13 August 2009

Referendums On The Decisions Of Individuals Are Illegitimate


I urge you to reconsider the basis of your editorial policy and the choices it leads you to make viz the selection of opinion pieces.

In yesterday’s opinion section, there was a column by one Lu Zhen Ru arguing for a public referendum on the proposed ECFA (economic cooperation framework agreement) on the grounds that it will induce more businesses to relocate to China “thus making Taiwan the loser in economic integration”.

It obviously did not occur to Lu Zhen Ru that if a business owner decided to relocate from Taiwan to China, that that would be his own private business and nobody else ought to have a damn say in it.

Implicit to Lu Zhen Ru’s argument is a misconstrual of the fundamentals of economics. The act of valuation is necessarily the action of an individual human being faced with a choice. Value is always a matter of an individual’s preference for one thing or another. How can a nation have a preference? Only via a majority, and of what? Individuals. Moreover a collection of individuals whose circumstances are all different and who are all faced with different choices to make, but who nevertheless feel themselves qualified to decide what the preferences of all other individuals should be. That is the economics of the cannibal pot.

What you see in columns such as Lu Zhen Ru’s is the tacit premise of collective economic and moral agency – i.e. the cannibalisation of values. A necessary corollary of this premise is the rejection of private property, a concept of the utmost importance to economic thought since the time of Smith and Ricardo.

Lu Zhen Ru is merely an example of the general kind of thing you publish and there is nothing especially bad about that column in particular. Yet it is as a result of that kind of column that readers of your pages, irrespective of their own knowledge or ignorance, are witnessing a creepy-crawly increase in economic nationalism and trade protectionism whose eventual consequences have ample precedent in 20th century history.

I urge you toward a reconsideration of the basis of your editorial policy.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Fagan

(Sent: Wednesday March 11th 2009. Unpublished by the Taipei Times)