Web Analytics Trust People (once an Englishman in Philly): Understanding America

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Understanding America

One of the biggest stories in the States at the moment is the takeover of P&O by the Middle East-based Dubai Ports World. It's an issue for Americans because P&O operates a number of important ports (both in terms of trade and symbolism) including Baltimore and, one with which I am much more familiar, Philadelphia. The issue for America is the jitters about port security being run from the Middle East, dressed up in terms of "America providing security for America's ports".

Sadly, this populist approach, ignores the fact that at the moment it's not Americans running these ports, per se, at the moment we Brits from London do through P&O. What's more it's the CoastGuard that provides security not the port management. The fact it's populist doesn't, it's important to note, make it necessarily wrong. It does mean that the arguments made need to be particularly well-reasoned. Sadly, from what I've seen, they're not.

For me, a right-of-centre, free-market democrat, who still believes in the importance of nations as a way of binding together people and values, it's a "no brainer". DP World believes it can run P&O, and by implication American ports, better and more efficiently than P&O's current management/ownership. They're willing to put substantial sums of money where their mouth is. What's more engagement with the world outside Europe and North America can only help raise living standards, cement Western democratic values and provide a stable economy leading on to a stable social situation in those regions, not least of all the Middle East.

We have to remember that the vast majority of the world is not as internationalistic as Britain; our Government could do well to remember this and place more focus on preventing Spain and France gaining short-term advantage to our detriment through what amounts to state-backed subsidy schemes. In understanding the issue it is vital to remember the two dominant strains of American political thought: capitalism and patriotism. The Republicans have, ingeniously, managed to bind the two, to their great credit and to their electoral success. This issue, however, throws the two into stark and obvious contrast. For this reason, the way the conflict between the two is resolved, should be taken much more seriously both here in Britain and around the world than current coverage (or the lack thereof) suggests it will be. For Republicans must decide how much they need cheerleaders, like Lou Dobbs, onside to broaden popular appeal on other matters, and, more importantly, whether they can afford to jettison more lazy right-wing thinking in order to do the right thing. The way they resolve that will mean much for the world economy. Will they seek the economically sensible and socially responsible method, of treating the less developed world as potential partners, or will the more regressive, middle America store up problems for itself with short-term thinking based around a view of America and the world as mere master and servant.


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