Monday, September 28, 2009

Questions for Protectionists: Is The National Zoo with Foreign Animals Unpatriotic & Un-American?

Is China Guilty of "Panda Dumping"?
I now live several blocks from the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and have visited there twice in the last week to see the exotic, foreign, imported pandas, hippo, zebras, the 8-month old baby gorilla, tigers, lions, etc.

Based on an earlier CD post, here are some questions for the trade protectionists, many of whom reside right here in the DC area, including my new neighbor President Obama:

1. Is there any material difference between American zoos like the Smithsonian National Zoo spending millions or billions of dollars annually to acquire "foreign" animals from South America, Africa and Asia for their exhibits, and American consumers spending billions of dollars annually to acquire foreign products from those same parts of the world, like tires from China?

2. If patronizing a foreign car company or a foreign tire company is considered to be an unpatriotic, un-American act, wouldn't visiting a zoo to patronize foreign, imported animals like the Chinese pandas be equally unpatriotic and un-American?

3. Protectionists might argue that you cannot buy an American elephant, so the only choice for the National Zoo is to purchase one from Africa or India. But isn't it also true that American consumers cannot buy what they might consider to be uniquely British, Japanese or German engineering features in an American car? Just like you cannot purchase an American elephant, you cannot purchase an American Jaguar, Lexus or BWM can you?

4. Isn't naming professional sports teams after foreign animals (Tigers, Lions) somewhat unpatriotic? If a team is named for an animal, wouldn't it really be better to name teams after American animals instead? If you support "Buy American," shouldn't you also support a "Name American" practice for professional sports teams?

5. One might argue that the National Zoo didn't spend any money purchasing the Chinese pandas (pictured above), but then wouldn't that be a case of "predatory panda pricing," since the Chinese government and Chinese people provided the pandas to the American people for "less than the cost of production." Should the American people complain to the WTO or the International Trade Commission that China is guilty of "panda dumping"? If we're willing to accept gifts from the Chinese people in the form of free pandas, why would we complain about them providing tires or other products at less than the cost of production, or complain about gifts from the Chinese people in the form of what is pejoratively called "predatory pricing" or "dumping"?


At 9/28/2009 7:58 PM, Anonymous Logic said...

I'm going to play Devil's Advocate and argue that the protectionist sentiment is to protect American employment and American profits. Chinese tires have close substitutes made in America. Pandas are unique.

No labor union that I know of ever protested against unique goods produced abroad with no domestic production under threat from low cost competition.

Americans have boycotted Russian caviar out of patriotism.

That said, I'm firmly in your free trade camp. The economic analogy is just ridiculous. But it's funny and cute.

At 9/28/2009 8:05 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Logic: What do you mean, pandas have close American substitutes - the American black bear, brown bear and the polar bear?

At 9/28/2009 8:22 PM, Blogger 1 said...


Hmmm, a great place for those who would like to go on 'canned hunts'...

At 9/28/2009 8:46 PM, Blogger Chuck said...

The author must have a very non productive life to write this kind of dribble. Zoo's are for kids and very educational. The panda is related to the "jackass" a close American substitute....get the drift?

At 9/28/2009 11:00 PM, Anonymous Logic said...

What do I mean "no close substitutes?"

I mean EXACTLY "no close substitutes".

People will flock to see a panda and pay no attention to a brown bear or black bear. They are exotic and unique, the very reason wealthy people kept menageries - the predecessors of modern zoos.

No one would pay to see a common cat, dog, pigeon, or squirrel in a zoo. But an elephant, rhino, giraffe, panda, bonobo - that's something you don't see every day. That's something you would pay for. Even a rarely seen brown or black bear is ho hum to an American.

As an economist are you unaware of cross-price elasticity of demand? Do you really think a panda and a brown bear have a comparable cross-price elasticity to a Chinese-made tire and an American-made tire? You're oblivious to this difference?

Seriously, is that what you're trying to argue here? You think the marginal utility for an American seeing a panda is the same as the marignal utility of seeing a brown bear?

We're also distinguishing between a product which is capital-intensive (a panda is rare and unique capital) to something relatively much more labor intensive (cars, tires, computers) and plentiful. What does rarity tell you about marginal utility?

And the last time I checked, polar bears were not indigenous to the US.

At 9/29/2009 12:02 AM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Logic: There are polar bears in Alaska, which is part of the U.S.

At 9/29/2009 12:04 AM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Logic: Do you think a Jaguar is a close substitute for a Chevy? Not for me. For me a Jaguar is exactly like a Panda bear.

At 9/29/2009 3:46 AM, Blogger Doug said...

A talking Pigeon would pack the house, and the Zoo, too.

At 9/29/2009 5:33 AM, Blogger railrider said...

Advocating what you suggest, has nothing to do with being unpatriotic ( maybe common sense), amd I fail to see anything wrong with favoring an American industry, when a foreign country does not give the same American industry equal treatment to their markets.

Mark if you were the manager of a foreign countries baseball team playing my American team, and you had the normal 3 outs per inning, when you were up and I, the American team was only giving two outs per inning would you really think that was fair?

At 9/29/2009 10:21 AM, Anonymous Logic said...

Ah, yes, Alaska. Thank you for reminding me.

No, a Chevy and a Jaguar are not close substitutes but that proves my point. A Chevy is cheaply obtained and common. A Jaguar is expensive and exotic. Just like a panda.

You didn't answer my questions about the cross-price elasticity between brown bears and pandas which is related to marginal utility. The marginal utility of seeing (or owning) a panda is high because they are rare and exotic.

You also ignored production from my original argument. Protectionist sentiment, as wrong as it is, is about saving jobs. Bringing a few pandas from China doesn't put American bear rustlers out of a job. It doesn't put zoo workers out of a job. There is no reason to be protectionist.

The analogy is bogus.

At 9/29/2009 11:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never trusted those Russian bears....

At 9/29/2009 1:07 PM, OpenID xf22b said...

Being another DC resident, I'm going to agree with Mark on this one.

For the average american, a grizzly or polar bear are ridiculously exotic. Especially in DC. Hell, I live on the eastern seaboard, have hiked 500 miles of the Appalachian Trail, and I've never seen a black bear during that whole time (I have seen 2 in other places.)

We decide that a panda is exotic, (I think this has to do with the look) but there is nothing that really makes it that much more exotic, and for the DC residents, more rare than a grizzly, of which the closest natural one is a quarter of a world away.

Measuring utility of something like this is highly subjective, and varies widely from individual to individual.

Mark is arguing that it is ridiculous for people to make these claims about what we should value economically because a Toyota for me, may well have more utility than my Pontiac G6 (It does in fact.)

On the jobs thing: since we only need a few bears, or a few grizzlies, why don't the panda's put America's bear rustlers out a job? Hell, it would be cheaper to transport the grizzly (not as far away), so with the savings, we could hire more keepers...

Oh yeah, for a better question: Is a Ford GT a close substitue for Bugatti Veyron? For me, maybe. For some people? Not at all.

At 9/29/2009 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The majestic animals in capitivity at the zoos may well be a metaphor for laborers in totalitarian regimes that trade with us. They are behind fences and walls to give the consumptive photo-op to those that are free. If they don't produce the entertainment value then they are denied sustenance.

One possible captive outcome is mass cloning of tusk bearing elephants and walrus. Ever larger ivory towers could be constructed to withdraw further from the non-theorectical as a by product.

At 9/29/2009 10:20 PM, Anonymous Logic said...

Yeah, right.

Zoos are falling all over themselves to get pandas and advertising about them. Like they don't know what sells and you do.

Did you ever see a zoo advertisement which says: "Come see our exotic brown bear!"

Polar bears are exotic and cute. I'll give you that. But there's no way in hell a brown or black bear outdraws a panda.

At 9/29/2009 10:38 PM, Anonymous CompEng said...

No one is afraid of losing their job over zoo imports or having their exotic animal manufacturing industry hollowed out. If you're asking a simple question, the simple answer is people don't feel threatened by panda imports because they don't believe it impacts their ability to make a living. Believe what you may, job skills aren't fully fungible on an individual basis. But I think you're just being contrary.

At 9/29/2009 10:46 PM, Blogger QT said...

What I love most about zoos is that usually the plants are worth more than the animals.

At 9/30/2009 12:14 AM, Anonymous Coagulant said...

That's it! No more pandas allowed in union halls.

Pandas will be towed at the owner's expense and deported by ICE.

Brown bears and polar bears are welcome. They may eat all they kill.

At 9/30/2009 9:57 AM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Logic, you are ignorant and completely missing the point. I am assuming you don't understand what an analogy is.

To expand on your logic how about this "there is no way in hell a US tire could cost as little as a Chinese tire" So where is your close substitute now?

As a side note, couldnt a zoo dye a black bear to look like a panda? Thats what I would like to see.

At 9/30/2009 9:32 PM, Anonymous Logic said...

Hobo, I know exactly what an analogy is and you do not. The power of an analogy is when the analogue is well known and understood and matches the characteristics of its counterpart.

All analogies are suspect in failing the latter condition.

Pandas are not manufactured. They are not created with labor. They are not imported in the thousands. Thousands of American jobs are not threatened by panda imports.

Price is determined by both supply and demand. China can have a production advantage and produce an identical tire to an American brand - an absolutely perfect substitute, and differences in price may exist. This will cause a decrease in demand for the American tire, reducing its price as well as profits, wages, and employment for the American firm. Some firms might exit. In perfect competition the prices will end up identical, but the Chinese will have higher production. American workers and firms will lose out. If the low Chinese prices cause too much exit, the market could become monopolistic competition, oligopoly, or monopoly.

China has nearly exclusive control over panda supply. They are not, under any circumstances, close substitutes to other bears. The drawing power of a panda is all the proof that's required. You're trying to argue that a Van Gogh is a close substitute to a Thomas Kinkade. That, by the way, is an appropriate analogy.

In short, the analogy SUCKS. It's not even close to whichever other products protectionists whine about.

Why do you defend absurd propositions to the death?

At 10/01/2009 8:54 AM, Anonymous Allen Nyhuis said...

While I know this writer is trying to be cute with this comparison, his entire premise is wrong -- and to a degree, it's damaging to zoos! First, no zoo in the entire world has a budget anywhere close to "billions of dollars". As of just a few years ago, the National Zoo's annual budget was barely over $20 million, while the nation's largest zoo (San Diego) was just a bit over $100 million.

Secondly, almost none of the animals in modern zoos are "acquired from foreign countries", as the writer stipulates. In fact, very few of the animals are acquired at all. They are either born right there at the zoo where they live, or they are traded in from another zoo.

Allen Nyhuis, Coauthor: America’s Best Zoos

At 10/01/2009 11:23 AM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Logic, once again, an analogy is inherently not a SUBSTITUTE as you seem to think.

Here is a simple analogy that a person like you could understand

"Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

What your response be to this?

Logic - Life isnt like a box of chocolates! Chocolates are made of sugar and are manufactured. Life is absolutely not made of sugar and is not manufactured... and you would babble for a many more paragraphs.

Analogies are used to illustrate one point in which the logic resembles another point.

Here it is loosely One Domestic Animal to Another Foreign Animal that resembles it closely in appearance.

Obviously the author isnt ACTUALLY saying that zoos should get rid of their pandas. Its called satire

At 10/01/2009 11:25 AM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Just to add to that, here is a very FAMOUS satircal work that uses another analogy

Bastiat's famous petition to protect french candle makers from an a 'foreign' competitor

At 10/01/2009 6:25 PM, Anonymous Logic said...

Hobo, your brain is warped.

An analogy is a rhetorical tool where someone tries to get you to accept arguments related to a Target by linking it to your well-formed and accepted opinions or beliefs regarding a Source which are ostensibly VERY SIMILAR to the target. As I said, the failure of analogy is usually in the dissimilarity between the source and the target.

In Perry's argument, the source was the acceptance of foreign animals over domestic animals. The target was the acceptance of foreign goods over domestic goods. The false similarity is equivocation on "foreign produced" and dissimilarity of the elements in the source and target premises.

To expose the false similarity, I used ECONOMICS to explain that:

1. Pandas, unlike other exports, do not displace American labor, wages, and profits.
2. Panda provision and exhibition is extremely capital intensive while other goods (which protectionists defend) are "relatively" labor intensive.
3. The volume of panda imports isn't large, but the volume of other goods, e.g. Tires, is large.
4. Zoo animals are not manufactured or intellectual property like the products defended by protectionists.
5. Pandas are NOT close substitutes in consumption to domestic alternatives while goods which protectionists defend against have close substitutes which are domestically produced.

My statement about substitutes was to unveil the fallacy of similarity of the RELATIONSHIP between two elements in the source (brown bears and pandas) with two elements in the target (domestically produced manufactures and foreign produced manufactures. You are CONFUSE, thinking my use of "substitute" was meant to be synonymous to "analogue."

This wasn't satire. It was an attempt to ridicule protectionist arguments for defending some American goods, waving the flag of patriotism, while casually accepting and enjoying other foreign "made" goods. Protectionists can be ridiculed for their ignorance of economics, their selfishness, their preying upon nationalism and patriotism, and the damage they do to our economy. But this method was off the Mark.

You haven't got the faintest idea what you're talking about, either with economics, rhetoric, LOGIC, or semantics, yet you babble on like you think you are an authority. I do this for a living, Sparky, and I do quite well.

By the way, pulling out of the market yesterday saved me 2.5% of my money. I'm laughing and you're crying. I must be friggin Nostradamus to see this drop coming.

At 10/02/2009 11:07 AM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Logic, I suggest you read the Bastiat argument that compares candles to the sun and give me another longwinded response about how they are not substitutes for eachother. If you do this for a living you should learn the history of such satire.


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