The perils of international trade

Building consumer markets in Africa and Asia is, according to Ross, a dangerous game.

This reprinted excerpt from Ross’s book Die Welt auf der Waage (1929) is a forceful reminder that Ross, although fascinated by the grids of international trade (see: European beer in a Chinese harbor), remained troubled by its political implications, sometimes going so far as to dream of some kind of economic autarchy for Germany. (See: The “umbilical chord” of international trade)

In this text, Ross sees US companies invest much effort into grooming consumer markets overseas. He presents anecdotal evidence of this, e.g. brand bicycles sold in Africa or Californian raisins in East Asia. But the catch, in Ross’s mind, is that to afford those goods, Asian and African populations have to learn a European work ethic that goes beyond working for subsistence wages in European-owned plantations.

Thus, developing local industries will eventually crowd out international suppliers. In the case of the Indian and Chinese textile industries, Ross even expects that those foreign companies will penetrate European markets. Ross avers that certain economic models predict that this new competition and supply will lead to overall growth rather than being a zero sum game—a point still being debated as you read this. He hints at his skepticism about this, and makes clear that he has his eyes on bigger things than mere economics, anyway. To help African and Asian natives to become skilled laborers and even entrepreneurs in their own right represents a danger, in his view, in matters of racial politics, and provide “a threat to the Occident” [p. 2]. From that point of view, he who exports machinery to India undermines racial solidarity.

Joachim Schätz

Colin Ross. Asien verdrängt Europa. Wiener Zeitung. 1931 Jan 14; 228 (10): 1–2.

Topic: Clash of Continents
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30

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