Stuart Carlson (AMS) offers a pun which I suspect is more about unavailable and late-arriving Christmas presents than about World Peace, but Jacob Marley’s regret can cover both topics, particularly if we get away from the specific notion of importing goods and focus, instead, on Marley weighed down by his voluntarily assumed burdens.
And note that, by 1843, when Dickens wrote his classic novella, the Industrial Revolution had already done a good job of shutting down individual crafters in favor of mechanized, centralized factories in which the workers were ill-compensated, often ill-treated cogs in the national machinery.
Moreover, the firm of Scrooge and Marley doesn’t seem to have produced anything but profit. The South Sea Bubble was a century in the past, but there were still plenty of people whose business was business and nothing more.
Marley noted the fallacy in that approach:
“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
Ah, well. An undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. Nothing more.
However, since the doleful spectre refuses to vanish, let’s return to the premise discussed here several times before, that no two nations with McDonalds have ever gone to war, and please don’t present examples to disprove it, because it’s only a saying, though a well-founded one.
That is, if the only economic thing two countries share is an American fast-food restaurant, blast away at each other all you like.
But that would be an odd and exceptional situation. The presence of that sort of consumer product suggests far more extensive economic connections.
Or, to use Marley’s example, “chains.”
So let’s take a look at this
Juxtaposition of the Day
Biden and Putin spent a couple of hours on a Zoom summit yesterday, in which Biden reportedly cautioned Putin against invading Ukraine.
These three cartoonists seem to capture the main possibilities, at least assuming Putin holds the upper hand: Ramirez sees the invasion as all but a done deal, Ohman depicts Biden as at best passive and at worst incompetent, while Walters shows Biden as a fool unaware of the menaces we face.
But does Putin hold the upper hand?
Much as Walters might prefer a macho bang-bang approach, his piranhas have considerably more to do with supply chains, global consumerism and Big Macs.
Iran’s current demand not simply that we return to the multi-party anti-nuke deal, but that we end all the other sanctions currently in place shows that economic warfare can draw blood.
This report from the Guardian lays out some possible things we didn’t do in 2014, when Russia invaded the Crimea and lopped off a piece of Eastern Ukraine for itself. Many of the sanctions that Obama imposed then were targeted at the oligarchs rather than at the nation, while what Biden has apparently threatened would strike far more deeply at Russia’s overall economy.
Now, it’s true that, 80 years ago, crippling sanctions against Japan resulted in — one might even say “provoked” — open warfare.
But, first of all, military counterstrikes are even more likely to provoke open warfare, so wotthehell, and, second, the world has changed a great deal in 80 years.
Following Mao’s post-war conquest of mainland China, we tried a quarter century of refusing to recognize his government either diplomatically or economically, until, as the rest of the world eased up on China, Nixon opened the doors in what was called “Constructive Engagement.”
In other words, the theory that you can have more influence over an economic partner than over someone with whom you do not interact.
And, yes, that can involve fast-food restaurants, but it obviously includes far more binding chains, such that a shooting war would be more costly than a matter of dead youngsters.
Good lord, it would even impact rich men with heel spurs.
Whether or not World War III will be fought with speadsheets, it seems likely that there would be a significant battle along those lines before any guns were ever fired.
We ought to be terrorized by that prospect as well.
You think we’ve got empty shelves now, just wait until all those tangled webs begin to unweave.
Which brings us to the Winter Olympics and Biden’s announcement that we will send our athletes but not our diplomats.
Carlos Amorim (CartoonArts Int’l) paints the gesture as ineffectual: Biden turns his back, but the games go on.
As noted here before, Jimmy Carter led a boycott of Moscow’s 1980 Olympics to protest the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and 64 nations stayed home — not just their diplomats, but their teams.
It didn’t halt the invasion but, in those days, boycotting the still-amateur Olympics was more of a symbolic gesture than an economic lever.
There’s a lot more money in the current games. Pulling out of Beijing 2022 completely would have far more impact, but, for the same reason, would be that much harder to do.
The same chains that would cause pain in China if jerked would also cause pain here.
So concern for disappeared tennis star Peng Shuai may have been enough to cause the Women’s Tennis Association to halt its tournaments in China, but the Olympic Committee is in too deep to pull out now, instead cooperating with Beijing by promoting an absurd, transparently fake interview with the star, who — according to the IOC — is absolutely thrilled to be confined to her apartment but wishes for privacy.
As does Aung San Suu Kyi, I’m sure.
I don’t know who makes all the NBA’s imported paraphernalia, but, as Robert Ariail (AMS) notes, a lot of Olympic knick-knacks are being crafted by people for whom the chains are far less metaphorical.
Of course, they are fed and sheltered, after a fashion, and so Dickens needn’t change a word:
Whatever. We’re sending our athletes to ski and skate and curl in the Winter Games, but, by golly, the Second Assistant to the Undersecretary of Paper Shuffling will not be in the reviewing stands!