Saturday, September 22, 2007

An Atavistic Idea

An op-ed by Shikha Dalmia and Leonard Gilroy addresses the growing outrage over the NAFTA Superhighway, an apocryphal transcontinental freeway that’ll supposedly link Canada and Mexico. Interestingly, the authors aren't as upset by the fact that the Superhighway plan (as envisioned by its largely conservative opponents) doesn’t exist as they are by the idea that anyone would oppose it if it did.

Isolationist conservatives, emboldened by their jihad last year against the Dubai Ports World deal, have identified this road project as the spearhead of a conspiracy to dissolve the United States of America.
I suppose I could take some satisfaction in seeing this Muslim-baiting language turned so casually against the demographic that pioneered its use, but I don't quite have the heart for it. In this case, at least, we have a common enemy:
After the Dubai Ports debacle, in which anti-terrorism hysteria forced Congress to thwart the transfer of U.S. port management leases held by a major British ports operator to a company based in Dubai, the atavistic idea that foreign investment erodes American sovereignty is back into vogue.
God knows I have mixed emotions about American sovereignty, in theory and in practice, but the idea that foreign investment can erode it doesn't strike me as “atavistic.” Or rather, whether it’s atavistic is less interesting to me than whether it’s true.

And it is true, of course, as Dalmia and Gilroy themselves concede when they rail against American politicians for “protectionism.” Never mind whether individual laws would have good or bad effects; Dalmia and Gilroy oppose them in principle, as obstacles to the free flow of capital. You can agree or disagree with this philosophy, but you can’t pretend that embracing it requires no adjustments to American sovereignty (or, more important, to morality and rationality).

For sheer sophistry, though, it’s hard to beat this:
The paradox of protectionism is that it damages the very thing it seeks to protect.
And the paradox of “free trade” is that it requires coercion. And the paradox of libertarianism is that it limits our thinking to the paint-by-numbers options approved by libertarian dogmatics. And the paradox of democracy is that it allows people to vote for dictators. There's a lesson here, certainly, but it's not the one Dalmia and Gilroy propose to teach.

Anyway, I’m pleased to see conservatives catching on to the fact that patriotism and hypercapitalism are not necessarily compatible, let alone identical. Beyond that, it’s interesting to think about why this imaginary highway, of all things, affects them so strongly. Apropos of which, Bryan Finoki asks:
How have conflict zones abroad been re-incorporated into the domestic fabric of the city, or inside the nation rather than merely existing as a space outside of national sovereignty? Is part of the effect of globalization with the spread of capital and military investment a new internalization of the conflict zone?
This is a question that preoccupies me particularly as it relates to the definition and defense of microborders, and the extent to which globalization tends not to erase national borders, so much as to atomize and mobilize them.

About which, I hope to have a bit more to say tomorrow.

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