Swine Flu — Another excuse for trade protectionism

The mass media is chasing (or creating, depending on your point of view) the buzz about the big bad Mexican swine flu. The key here is that its new, not that its dangerous. It has killed a few tens of people, but a few hundred thousand people die every year from various strains of influenza and this is never considered particularly newsworthy and rarely is even mentioned in the media. This is a scary thing because it is not well understood and the news hopped on it right away — the exact opposite of what happened numerous times with new diseases which were both more deadly and more virulent in China because the Chinese have the ability to gag their media and almost every civilian international communication route as well thus preventing a buzz from ever getting a foothold. So the flu is new, not well understood, has no conclusive treatment at the moment, can be passed between humans and is proven to be lethal — at least proven to be lethal in the conditions of care which exist in a mildly socialized developing nation in the grips of a near civil war (something most folks tend to overlook).

Scary? Sure. Worthy of this amount of media hype? Not really. But there is not much else to talk about at the moment. The US hasn’t invaded anyone new in a few years despite how fun that can be, nobody has chopped up a bunch of kids for dinner in at least a month and the attention span the world’s journalists have for deeper issues is less than the amount of time it take to understand such things.

What is interesting to me is not the dynamic of media hype creation — this is a well understood phenomenon and extremely funny in its own way. But that is not what I’m writing about today. What is most interesting to me today is the way that various nations have elected to use the swine flu scare as an excuse for broad-sweeping agricultural protectionism, particularly against American agricultural exports, not so much against Mexican ones. It is an excellent tactic given the current overwhelming short-term desire to protect ones own industry sectors in the midst of a global economic downturn (despite the eventual ominous long-term global effectsof such moves).

Check for a wave of essentially protectionist embargoes largely aimed at the United States as well as possibly Canada, China, random South American countries experiencing otherwise unrelated trade disputes with a host of other nations such as Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and especially Argentia. If you wanted an excuse to enact an agricultural ban or even a trade or travel restriction of some sort this is an excellent one that will play so well in the media that is might even escape public mention.

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