Farewell to the G20 Freeloaders
What exactly did the G20 meeting accomplish? This European junket was sold to Americans as this century's Yalta conference or Bretton-Woods agreement. Yet those of us with functioning frontal lobes knew exactly how it would turn out. Obama appeals to a shared sense of responsibility and asks the world for its support, and the response ranges from feeble support to even feebler criticism.
Every working group has its share of freeloaders, those coworkers-in-name-only who show up for the first meeting and then find plenty of excuses to avoid taking on new commitments or delivering on the few that they already have made. Asking freeloaders to help you solve problems is like asking arsonists to put out fires.
But the G20 should rename itself the F19, because virtually the entire group is made up of sponges. Let's take a page from the Obama administration and start naming and shaming.
Chairman Mao envisioned a workers' paradise in China, but his wretched economic stewardship condemned the country to decades of poverty, slavery, and even starvation. Now the country's economic prospects look far brighter and most expect it to lead the next century. The American assembly line has been shipped to China, a land where young workers clamor to earn two dollars an hour sewing our baseball gloves.
But throw away your unread copy of The World is Flat -- it's not globalization, free market economics, or international competitiveness that has sent the factories there, but an American economic policy of capitulation. We don't want to make products any more, or at least that's what one can deduce from our thicket of regulations, taxes, etc. However, we have no problem importing goods from anywhere, no matter what the local conditions.
And so the factories go to countries like China with little more to offer than cheap labor, minimal safety and environmental regulations, and some political stability. The politicians that wrote the laws that favor unregulated imports over heavily regulated domestic production may even blame Benedict Arnold CEOs for the job migration when election season comes, but they will still be sure to collect their campaign contributions.
But China's sin isn't selling us cheap products. It is that they then treat America's most valuable export as if it were free. For more than two decades China has been at the top of the list of nations stealing intellectual property. And this isn't just movies, music, and software. Chinese firms will copy everything from Wrigley chewing gum to Pfizer Viagra to GM auto parts and then sell them worldwide.
This rampant abuse was supposed to stop when China agreed to join to World Trade Organization in 1999, when China finally did join in late 2001, when the U.S. filed its official WTO complaint in 2005, and then when the Olympics put the nation in the international spotlight in 2008. Nonetheless it is as bad as ever.
China's excuse is that they are doing the best that they can, which is the same excuse they have for selling poisoned food and toys. Yet the government displays considerable competence when it comes to suppressing political speech that threatens its power. China is a freeloader.
Saudi Arabia qualifies for G20 membership only because of its mammoth oil industry. Petroleum accounts for 50% of the nation's GDP, 75% of its budget revenues, and 90% of its exports. Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, holds oil reserves worth more than $13 trillion at today's prices and is the most valuable company in the world according to the Financial Times.
In the 1930s, Saudi Aramco was simply Aramco, an American joint venture between California Standard Oil and Texas Oil with a concession from the Saudi government to drill for oil. After more than a decade of searching fruitlessly, they finally discovered the largest supply the world had ever seen.
Their reward? In 1950, the king of Saudi Arabia threatened to nationalize the industry unless he received half of the profits. Nationalization or similar coercion had happened in many other countries, including Venezuela and Iran. But it didn't stop there. In the 1970s, Saudi Arabia used its oil profits and legal muscle to purchase the rest of Aramco.
This past expropriation is why the debate about "offshore drilling" and "foreign oil dependency" is geopolitical nonsense. We did drill offshore, all over the world, and discovered and developed oil wells and reserves that would have supplied the planet with cheap and available energy and the U.S. with billions in tax revenues. Then, after the hard work was done, local governments tore up our contracts and took control of an industry worth tens of trillions of dollars.
And wouldn't it be the Saudis that are dependent upon us? The 1991 Gulf War was fought not just to liberate Kuwait but also to protect Saudi Arabian oil fields. Without our military protection, every dictator in the Middle East and North Africa would be after those wells and the region would be bloodier than Sierra Leone . Yet instead of offering to share the burden, the nation diverts its oil profits to anti-American groups like Hamas and CAIR. To call Saudi Arabia a freeloader is being kind.
Although the U.S. has been accused of being "downright mean " and "guided by fear" by our new first lady, the truth is that we are generous to a fault. Any illegal alien that can circumvent a border check will immediately receive education, health care and, any other social service available and can become a part of our advanced economy under protection from our criminal justice system. No other country does this, partly because no country can afford to.
Most of the illegal immigrants that come here are unskilled and poorly educated and incapable of earning more than $5-10/hr. Even if their paltry earnings were taxed at 100%, it wouldn't cover the salary of a single teacher, police officer, public defender, doctor, judge, or prison guard. The cumulative shortfall to governments and industry is in the trillions of dollars and borne by American citizens and legal immigrants that follow the rules and pay their taxes.
The most terrible costs are not economic but human. Despite our compassion, illegal aliens murder 4,200 Americans a year. Illegal alien drunk drivers kill another 4,700. More than 267,000 illegal aliens are incarcerated in U.S. prisons. And these statistics don't take into account the recent surge in cross-border violence.
While Mexico flouts international law by failing to police its own border, it also earns billions from remittances and billions more from profits on drugs and human smuggling. Yet the U.S. rewards the country with favored trade status, and it is our third largest trading partner and remains a top tourist destination. Mexico is a freeloader.
The most maddening aspect of freeloaders is that instead of being grateful for their unearned welfare, they are often the first to complain about their situation and lay the blame elsewhere. And this brings us to the land of self-delusion that lies across the Atlantic.
For decades Americans protected Europe from Soviet assault by putting more than 50,000 soldiers on the front lines and spending hundreds of billions of dollars to blunt the USSR's considerable advantages in both technology and manpower. These sacrifices allowed Europe to live in peace and prosperity for decades and still permit its citizens and firms to conduct business in the many other countries around the world that also enjoy U.S. protection.
But when the United States was attacked and activated the NATO alliance, our continental allies were nowhere to be found. As of today, the five largest nations in Europe have 11,300 troops total in Afghanistan, most of which are instructed to avoid combat. And NATO's role in Iraq is limited to training, as if the war was not yet begun!
Europe still clings desperately to the belief that it occupies the international moral high ground, despite a hundred years of historical evidence to the contrary. The region responsible for two world wars and three genocides in the last century is now either unwilling or unable to provide any significant assistance in the defense of civilization from the existential threat of Islamic extremists. Europe is a a freeloader and a tragic warning to others.
People freeload simply because they can. From a cynical perspective, freeloaders are the most productive members of society. They are able to shift their costs to others and thereby receive the greatest benefit for the least effort. They may profess ignorance, weakness, or compassion as needed, but most fully understand their situation and what needs to be done to maintain it.
The real question is why America tolerates freeloaders. It seems that every other country in the world is allowed, even expected, to act in its own national interest. Meanwhile, America, the greatest economic and military power and lone superpower, is obliged to shoulder unreasonable burdens and is unfairly chastised when it acts on its own to solve global problems.
Yet if the question of whether America should continue to support these freeloaders were ever seriously put to the voter, the response would be deafening. No principle is more embedded in the American psyche than that of taking one's share of responsibility. There is no constituency for supporting the lazy and apathetic, either at home or abroad.
My guess is that the America public would say: "Goodbye, G20. You have proven that you have no obligations to us and we have none to you. Our markets and borders are closed and our military protection is withdrawn. Perhaps in the future we will entertain new trade agreements and mutual protection pacts with countries that are more willing to share the work as well as the rewards. But for now, the reign of the freeloaders is over."