Foreign Investment: Protectionism vs. Industrialization (5 of 5)

by | Oct 4, 2022

The prerequisite for more economic equality in the world is industrialization. And this is possible only through increased capital investment, increased capital accumulation. You may be astonished that I have not mentioned a measure which is considered a prime method to industrialize a country. I mean protectionism. But tariffs and foreign exchange controls are exactly […]

The prerequisite for more economic equality in the world is industrialization. And this is possible only through increased capital investment, increased capital accumulation. You may be astonished that I have not mentioned a measure which is considered a prime method to industrialize a country. I mean protectionism. But tariffs and foreign exchange controls are exactly the means to prevent the importation of capital and industrialization into the country. The only way to increase industrialization is to have more capital. Protectionism can only divert investments from one branch of business to another branch.

Protectionism, in itself, does not add anything to the capital of a country. To start a new factory one needs capital. To improve an already existing factory one needs capital, and not a tariff.

I do not want to discuss the whole problem of free trade or protectionism. I hope that most of your text­books on economics represent it in a proper way. Protection does not change the economic situation in a country for the better. And what certainly does not change it for the better is labor unionism. If conditions are unsatisfac­tory, if wages are low, if the wage earner in a country looks to the United States and reads about what is going on there, if he sees in the movies how the home of an average American is equipped with all modern com­forts, he may be envious. He is perfectly right in saying: “We ought to have the same thing.” But the only way to obtain it is through an increase in capital.

Labor unions use violence against entrepreneurs and against people they call strikebreakers. Despite their power and their violence, however, unions cannot raise wages continually for all wage earners. Equally ineffective are government decrees fixing minimum wage rates. What the unions do bring about (if they succeed in raising wage rates) is permanent, lasting unemployment.

But unions cannot industrialize the country, they can­not raise the standard of living of the workers. And this is the decisive point: One must realize that all the policies of a country that wants to improve its standard of living must be directed toward an increase in the capital invested per capital. This per capita investment of capital is still increasing in the United States, in spite of all of the bad policies there. And the same is true in Canada and in some of the West European countries. But it is unfortunately decreasing in countries like India.

We read every day in the newspapers that the population of the world is becoming greater, by perhaps 45 million people–or even more–per year. And how will this end? What will the results and the consequences be? Remember what I said about Great Britain. In 1750 the British people believed that six million constituted a tremendous overpopulation of the British Isles and that they were headed for famines and plagues. But on the eve of the last world war, in 1939, fifty million people were living in the British Isles, and the standard of living was incomparably higher than it had been in 1750. This was the effect of what is called industrialization–a rather inadequate term.

Britain’s progress was brought about by increasing the per capita investment of capital. As I said before, there is only one way a nation can achieve prosperity: if you increase capital, you increase the marginal productivity of labor, and the effect will be that real wages will rise.

In a world without migration barriers, there would be a tendency all over the world toward an equalization of wage rates. If there were no migration barriers today, probably twenty million people would try to reach the United States every year, in order to get higher wages. The inflow would reduce wages in the United States, and raise them in other countries.

I do not have time to deal with this problem of migration barriers. But I do want to say that there is another method toward the equalization of wage rates all over the world. This other method, which operates in the absence of the freedom to migrate, is the migration of capital. Capitalists have the tendency to move towards those countries in which there is plenty of labor available and in which labor is reasonable. And by the fact that they bring capital into these countries, they bring about a trend toward higher wage rates. This has worked in the past, and it will work in the future, in the same way.

When British capital was first invested in, let us say, Austria or Bolivia, wage rates there were much, much lower than they were in Great Britain. But this additional investment brought about a trend toward higher wage rates in those countries. And such a tendency prevailed all over the world. It is a very well-known fact that as soon as, for instance, the United Fruit Company moved into Guatemala, the result was a general tendency toward higher wage rates, beginning with the wages which United Fruit Company paid, which then made it necessary for other employers to pay higher wages also. Therefore, there is no reason at all to be pessimistic in regard to the future of “undeveloped” countries.

I fully agree with the Communists and the labor unions, when they say: “What is needed is to raise the standard of living.” A short time ago, in a book pub­lished in the United States, a professor said: “We now have enough of everything, why should people in the world still work so hard? We have everything already.” I do not doubt that this professor has everything. But there are other people in other countries, also many people in the United States, who want and should have a better standard of living.

Outside of the United States–in Latin America, and still more in Asia and Africa–everyone wishes to see conditions improved in his own country. A higher standard of living also brings about a higher standard of culture and civilization.

So I fully agree with the ultimate goal of raising the standard of living everywhere. But I disagree about the measures to be adopted in attaining this goal. What measures will attain this end? Not protection, not government interference, not socialism, and certainly not the violence of the labor unions (euphemistically called collective bargaining, which, in fact, is bargaining at the point of a gun).

To attain the end, as I see it, there is only one way! It is a slow method. Some people may say, it is too slow. But there are no short cuts to an earthly paradise. It takes time, and one has to work. But it does not take as much time as people believe, and finally an equalization will come.

Around 1840, in the western part of Germany–in Swabia and W

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Ludwig Von Mises (1881-1973) was the 20th century's foremost economist. He was the author of Human Action, Socialism, and a dozen other works.

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