The Wall Street Journal has a story on the troubles facing Chinese tech giant Huawei as it tries to enter the US mobile phone market.
A Chinese technology giant, whose telecom networking equipment is shut out of the U.S. due to security concerns, is bringing its high-end smartphone to American consumers for the first time.
But a number of obstacles are blocking Huawei Technologies Co.’s path to success in the U.S. smartphone market.
U.S. carriers, which distribute more than 80% of handsets in the country, are reluctant to work with Huawei—the world’s third-largest smartphone maker by shipments behind Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Inc.—because of its low brand recognition and security concerns associated with its networking equipment, people familiar with the matter say. A 2012 congressional report recommended that U.S. carriers avoid using Huawei gear in their networks for fear that China might use it to spy on Americans. Huawei has denied such accusations, saying it operates independently of Beijing.
Much of what goes on in the modern age requires people to deny observable reality. China is an authoritarian state, run by a military government, that is highly paranoid of the outside world. Paranoia about the non-Chinese world is a feature of Chinese culture, a permanent feature. The type of government can change, but the Chinese elite will always view the rest of the world as smelly barbarians that must be kept under control. China is probably the most chauvinistic society on earth.
The result of this is that no Chinese firm operates independent of Beijing. Any company large enough to export to the rest of the world, or import from the rest of the world, is in bed with the Chinese government. More important, any tech firm big enough to play on the global stage is deeply connected to the Chinese military, because they could not be so big without the blessing and active support of the People’s Liberation Army. This is something everyone knows, except for the writers of the Wall Street Journal.
The result is trade with China comes with a hidden cost. If you move your electronics making factory to China, they will steal your technology. They will also do things like bake spyware and back doors into networking gear so the the PLA can exploit US communications networks. That means the US has to spend billions in counter-espionage activities in order to prevent the Chinese from running off with all of our secrets. This is just one example of the hidden costs of trade with China.
It’s not just China. We have so-called free trade with Mexico. The result was not trade in the way normal people think of it. What happened was dirty US manufacturers located their plants to Mexico. Companies looking to game the labor laws followed soon after. Mexico is not selling us more stuff and buying more of our stuff. Mexico is just a loophole in US labor and environmental laws. If you make lead-acid batteries, for example, putting the battery plant in Mexico in the right move.
The problem is those environmental costs don’t go away. The Mexican government estimates that 10% of their GDP is lost due to the effects of environmental degradation. Go to Mexico City and the air is like soup. Of course, environmental degradation does not stay local. Air pollution in one place goes global as the winds change. The fevered attempts to ban your car and lawnmower in order to reduce carbon emissions are mostly due to “developing” countries like China and Mexico.
Of course, you also have the labor problem. Making car batteries in the US means people working in a car battery factory. Move those jobs to Mexico and we do get slightly cheaper car batteries, but we get more unemployed people. The unemployed car battery worker is not taking up a self-actualizing career at the George Mason economics department. He’s going on the dole or drifting down the economic scale. At low levels, the trade-offs seem worthwhile, but once you scale this up the costs metastasize.
There’s also another hidden cost to free trade. Donald Trump rode to the White House on the promise of reorienting trade in the patriotic direction. All the beautiful people thought the issue was settled. Everyone they knew was a free trader. The same was true in Britain with regards to EU membership. Open borders and free trade are obviously all good with no bad, according to the beautiful people. In both cases, the Dirt People had other ideas and rallied to the banner of patriotic trade and nationalism.
The reason for this is so-called free trade erodes public trust. People assume politicians are crooked and dishonest. Even so, they expect their government to put their interests, the nation’s interests, ahead of the interests of foreigners. They may be crooks, but they are our crooks. Free trade and open borders break that contract as the state ends up siding with strangers over the citizens. The citizens soon begin to question the value of citizenship and their support for the state. The consequences are inevitable.
A good rule of life is that anytime a well understood word suddenly gets a modifier, you know a caper is afoot. Trade is something people always understood. One group of people trades their excess for the excess of another group of people. Mexico sends Canada sombreros, while the Canadians send Mexico beaver hats. Free-trade is something else entirely. It is a collection of loopholes, so well-connected industries can get all the benefits of the state, but shift the costs onto others. Those cost are often quite high.
Trade between nations is a good thing. America selling pop culture to China makes it tough for China to be bellicose and belligerent. China selling cheap manufactured good to America prevents domestic firms from becoming lazy and stupid. American cars are vastly better due to competition with Japan. China scrupulously looks out for her interests and America should do the same. If that means the snowflakes on campus have to pay a little more for their iPhone, so be it. In the long run, it is a bargain for them and their countrymen.