Monday, August 14, 2006


Failure of Good Intentions

Sometimes I’m saturated with news. Last night (August 13) I watched and listened to the interview between Iran President Ahmadinejad and reporter Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. Both President Ahmadinejad and reporter Wallace seemed to enjoy the interview hugely. Mr. Ahmadinejad has been portrayed in the American press as having some extreme positions and beliefs that are completely at odds with those of most Americans. In particular, he is noted for having said that “the Holocaust is a myth,” and that “Israel should be done away with.”

In the interview, President Ahmadinejad said that locating Israel in the midst of an Arab-Muslim region was a mistake. He argued that, since the Holocaust occurred in Europe, it was a European problem and innocent Palestinians should not be made to suffer for it. That is, Israel should have been created in Europe, not in Palestine. He went on to say that the government of Israel is not legitimate. Mike Wallace didn’t ask him and he did not say what ought to be done with the Jews who now live in Israel after the State of Israel is demolished.

Another piece of news concerns miners in Mexico. I heard this story this morning on Pacifica Radio. Until around 1990, the Mexican state owned and operated the mines. The miners enjoyed fairly good pay and good working conditions. They enjoyed the protection of a union. Then Mexico undertook some reforms of its economy and followed the prescription of the World Bank and the Milton Friedman school of economic thought. Public enterprises were sold. The individuals who bought the mines became nearly instant billionaires. The owners of the now privately operated mines decided that the workers were costing them too much. They couldn’t fire the workers outright. Instead, they requested and obtained permission from the Mexican government to close the mines. Since the mines were closed, the workers were laid off.

The next day after closing the mines, the operators hired new workers at lower pay and without union membership. The mines were reopened. In addition, the operators hired contract workers for some of the more dangerous occupations. In that way, when workers were injured or killed on the job, the mine operators were insulated from any legal responsibility. Working conditions today are much worse and pay rates are lower than they were when the mines were publicly owned and operated. The workers no longer have a union to represent them. The workers that were laid off had no other jobs and many of them have joined the migration of undocumented workers from Mexico into the United States.

How are these two stories connected? Ahmadinejad faults Israel not merely for existing but for causing severe hardship among the Palestinian people that Israel has displaced to make room for immigrating Jews. A reporter faults Mexico for adopting the privatization plan advocated by Milton Friedman that has led to hardship among Mexican workers, particularly mine workers. Is it too great a stretch to connect both of these stories to faults in American foreign policy? It was the United States that led the effort in the United Nations to create a state in which Jews would be the majority and to locate that state in the Biblical land of Israel. It is the United States that leads the effort to force other countries to adopt privatization of many publicly owned and operated industries.

You can argue that, although both the creation of Israel and the privatization of Mexican mines are results of American policy, that policy is not malevolent. It was not our intention as Americans to inflict suffering on the indigenous population of Arab Palestine when we advocated creating a small state near Jerusalem in which Jews could be a voting majority and feel safe from persecution by Christians or Muslims. We hope and believe that in time the Israelis and the surrounding Arab nations will come to an agreement to live and let live and that in such an atmosphere it will then be possible to arrange some sort of restitution or repayment or reparation for the people who were displaced to make room for Israel.

It was also not our intention to inflict misery on the workers in Mexican mines, or in any other “privatized” industry in any country. We believed, and many still believe, that private operation and ownership of an enterprise yields better results in the long run than public ownership and operation. The necessity to compete and make a profit will force the operators to adopt new ways of operation that will be more efficient, safer, and enable the privatized firms to pay better wages to their employees. We believe that, in time, the workers in these industries will develop their own unions and will negotiate improved wages and working conditions.

We Americans have only the purest of intentions. We also have the belief that the good results that we hope for will come about automatically without any additional help from us. It doesn’t appear now that things are going to get any better without our help. In fact, something contrary is happening. The present Bush Administration has intervened in the Arab-Israeli world in a clumsy way by invading an Arab country. Our intervention has made matters worse, not better.
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