Once, a mother who needed some quiet hours told her twelve year old son to entertain his six year old sister, no matter the cost. “Just do whatever she wants you to do, and no complaining,” the mother sternly ordered. The son dutifully nodded his head, and the mother retired to get some rest. Unfortunately, she was awakened soon after by the piercing wail of her six year old daughter. Angry, she demanded of her son why he did not entertain his sister. “Mom,” he said in defense of himself, “at first she wanted me to dig a hole in the back yard, so I did. But then, she wanted me to take it back to her room!”
The sister asked her brother to do the impossible, to move a hole already dug. However, countries all around the world are busily engaged in the same thing, digging holes for themselves in their back yards that will be impossible to move, or fill, or even avoid falling into. Holes that will make little girls cry some day. Holes excavated with protective trade barriers.
The global economic crisis is making a lot of powerful people do a lot of crazy things. Erecting ancient and poisonous protective trade barriers is one of the craziest things. Russia has taken the lead with a much-publicized tariff against combine harvesters, among other things. The EU has used trade barriers to bar Chinese nuts and bolts, for obvious reasons. Not to be outdone, the US is planning ridiculously high tariffs against French cheese, Italian bottled water, and has already banned Mexican truck drivers and Chinese box springs. Egypt no longer desires sugar, from anyone. And Argentina is requiring new licenses for toys.
President Lee Myung-bak of Korea understands this, which is why he has effectively been on the campaign trail, visiting Asian members of G-20 in an attempt to persuade them to not only avoid putting up protective trade barriers themselves, but to urge the other members of G-20 to stop doing it as well. Of course, President Lee doesn't do this out of the purity of his concern for humanity. Korea relies extensively on exports in order to keep its own economy going. The two great Korean companies, Samsung and LG, ship their digital gadgets all over the world every day, an essential part of Korea's growth. Nevertheless, it would be good for other countries to listen to President Lee, for the man knows what he is talking about.