Monday, May 05, 2008

Bias and Romanticism

Aco wrote in the Diskusi Ekonomi (in Bahasa Indonesia) why rice import policy, which have larger number of gainers than losers, could not get thru. He proposed three possible answers: the gainers fail to coordinate its political power (the Olsonian logic of collective action), pure ignorance, and stubborn ideological stance.

The logic of collective action may be able to explain import ban, but not export restriction, because we find that regardless the number of net gainers or losers, people seem not to like the idea of international free trade. Import no, export also no. This is a symptom of an anti foreign bias (Caplan, 2007). For many of us, anything foreign is bad, dangerous, and threatening, including trade with foreigners.

Moreover, there seems to be a reverse-orientalism sentiment, that is, everything but western value is better. This observation is supported by the fact that conspiracy theory sells very well -not only to the illiterates but also the educated.

On ideological bias, there also seems a romanticism on peasantry. Paul Collier, the writer of excellent The Bottom Billion, wrote here (and read the whole discussion on food crisis, too):
Unfortunately, large-scale commercial agriculture is unromantic. We laud the production style of the peasant: environmentally sustainable and human in scale. In respect of manufacturing and services we grew out of this fantasy years ago, but in agriculture it continues to contaminate our policies.
and, indeed that:
In Europe and Japan huge public resources have been devoted to propping up small farms. The best that can be said for these policies is that we can afford them.
But developing country like us can not afford it. We don't have such luxury. So when we come up using public resources to develop the agriculture revitalization program, are we speaking the same language for large scale commercial agriculture?

Are we ready to give up the idyllic view of a small plot land owner peasantry for a large scale industry and see a transformation from myriad small peasant landowners class to become waged farmers working in a handful large scale agroindustrial companies?