Don’t listen to the advocates of global apartheid

If someone asked you to point to apartheid to what would you point?

It would be difficult to single out any one specific thing since apartheid was a series of laws, regulations, controls and attitudes that permeated South Africa. At its core was a philosophy of separation: the idea that people of various races should have as little to do with each other as possible.

It was established to keep separate the cultures, ideas, values, and economies of the various races. One justification that was given by its architects was that it was necessary to ‘protect’ the uniqueness of each culture.

One of the most obvious ways it did this was by restricting trade between the races. It was an odious system and one that well deserved to die.

So why is it that so many people want to revive it on a global scale?

There are organised forces that rally around the idea that the peoples of the world should be kept economically separate. They don’t want us to trade with one another. They don¹t want us to buy one another’s products or hire one another for specific jobs.

They argue that the races of the world should be kept independent of one another. They even claim it is necessary to do this to ‘protect’ the cultures of the different nations. They call themselves anti-globalisation activists. I call them advocates of global economic apartheid.

It’s true they don’t go as far in violating individual rights as did the apartheid regime. But in other ways they are worse. The apartheid governments didn’t try to stop various ethnic or tribal groups of the same race from dealing with each other. The Afrikaner could still sell to the Englishman and the Zulu could still trade with the Xhosa.

The anti-globalists want to restrict trade to only those people who live within the confines of the borders of your country. Borders that are more often than not accidents of history are rarely drawn with any sensibility behind them.

Apartheid made people poorer. We know that. It was one reason that so many people condemned it. By restricting trade between people of different races it limited the number of potential trading opportunities. By reducing the number of trades possible it reduced the likelihood that any one trader could make the optimal trade possible. It limited the jobs you could take and the number of people you could hire. It said where you could sell your products as well as from whom you would be allowed to buy goods or services.

Every person regulated by apartheid’s economic laws, and that was everyone, lost out. South Africa was poorer because of it.

Global economic separation does the same thing just on a bigger scale. Globalisation is simply the freedom to trade with the rest of the world regardless of the country in which your trading partner lives. We are allowed to seek out the best opportunities to buy or sell.

That means I can make trades that make me better off. Often I don’t even realise that I am doing this. I may not know that the banana I’m eating came from Ecuador or that the book I am reading was published in the UK. I just know that I wanted that banana and that book.

I wanted them because they made me ‘better off’ in some way that I considered important. At the same time it made farmers in Ecuador and publishers in the U.K. a little bit better off as well.

Apartheid was a system of barriers that kept people apart. Economically it prevented voluntary exchanges between people of different races. Protectionism, the philosophy of the anti-globalist movement, is the same thing. The only real difference is that where apartheid reduced exchanges between people of different races the anti-globalist wants to prevent exchanges between people of different nations.

That difference is relatively minor. The results will still be the same. Like apartheid protectionism makes us all worse off.

Author: Jim Peron is the executive director of the Institute for Liberal Studies (Auckland, New Zealand). This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Free Market Foundation.

FMF Feature Article/28 September 2004

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