“Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)
Friend1: You know what topic has been in the news lately?
Friend2: The election?
Friend1: Well, yeah, but I’m talking about an issue.
Friend2: The national debt. The Supreme Court.
Friend2: Ah, yes.
Friend1: What is your opinion on that?
Friend2: I’m not talking about politics.
Friend1: I’m not asking for an opinion on the different politicians. Pretend we are just talking about trade in the philosophical sense. What is your opinion?
Friend2: Still, it’s like a pointless exercise. What is the use? And I hope you realize this has been an issue ongoing for centuries. It leads to conflict. The wrong policy causes world wars.
Friend1: There you go. I knew I could get some opinions out of you.
Friend2: I will find a way to spiritualize it, since the fate of the soul seems to be your last concern.
Friend1: I’d just like some clarity on the issue.
Friend2: Do you know the different sides? That is the first step in forming an opinion.
Friend1: There are the protectionists.
Friend2: What does that mean? What is their stance?
Friend1: Their general stance is that free trade is bad for employment. Jobs get shipped overseas.
Friend1: Because labor is cheaper elsewhere. The companies cut costs by moving their production to a country where the profit margin becomes higher for the product they are selling.
Friend2: And what is wrong with that?
Friend1: Everyone who is capable should work. That is healthy for society. Otherwise you have despair, desperation, and poverty. As Benjamin Franklin quoted the old proverb, “It’s difficult for an empty sack to stand up straight.”
Friend2: What is the solution of the protectionists?
Friend1: Tariffs. If a company goes overseas, when they want to sell their product back in their original country, the government slaps on a tax. This makes the product more expensive for the consumer, essentially negating the advantage of moving the production overseas.
Friend2: What is the opinion of the opposition? What are they called?
Friend1: Free traders. They start by saying that tariffs work both ways. If my country adds a tax on foreign made goods, the other countries will do the same thing. This means people making things in my country will have a difficult time exporting.
Friend2: Right. What else?
Friend1: I’m not sure I know the rest. The free traders always say that free and fair trade is good.
Friend2: It’s a philosophical principle. Let’s say the two countries are America and Japan. Free trade is individual citizens conducting commerce. If an American wants to buy something made by a Japanese person, why should the government interfere? It is none of their business. It’s really no different than a person from Texas conducting business with a person from New York. It’s people that are exchanging goods and services, voluntarily, without coercion.
Friend1: I see. What about the argument that shipping factories overseas decreases employment?
Friend2: This is one of the great illusions. There are seen and unseen consequences. The seen consequences are the factory closing and the cheaper product.
Friend1: What are the unseen consequences?
Friend2: You can use the smartphone as an example. The most profitable company in the world basically revolutionized the market. Their phones are manufactured outside of America. The protectionist would intervene. They would recommend a tariff in order to keep that company’s operations domestic.
Friend1: Right. The consequence would be saved jobs and a higher price for the smartphone.
Friend2: Okay, but what is unseen in the move overseas is the burgeoning market of smartphones. Because of the cheaper price, more people are able to buy smartphones. Even if it is relatively expensive to other consumer technological devices, people still decide to buy them. Now smartphones have become extremely popular, and not just the ones produced by that company.
Friend2: So that means a huge boom in demand for related things like accessories and software. Magazines, newspapers and blogs even make money by having so much to write about. There are thousands, if not millions, of unseen jobs created as a result of the decision to manufacture overseas.
Friend1: So you are in favor of free trade, then?
Friend2: Ideally, you’d love to have everything you need for survival produced locally. This applies especially to food and clothing, which are the most important things in a material existence for extending life. I’m not for or against, but you have to realize that it is impossible for any one person, or government for that matter, to see the big picture. Just because a factory closes doesn’t mean that there will be a net negative result. It’s not humanly possible to understand everything about something so complex as economics.
Friend1: It’s in God’s hands.
Friend2: Exactly. There is a quote from Lakshmana that I really like. He one time told Shri Rama, his elder brother, that the results to action are unseen and indefinite. Basically, in karma you’re not really sure what all the results are. You have no way of knowing when they’ll manifest, either.
Friend1: The consequences can come in a future lifetime, right?
Friend2: Exactly. You also can’t get a result without action. Even if good fortune comes my way, I should know that the cause is some sukriti, or meritorious credits, earned previously. Just because I don’t remember the good deed doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Friend1: But how should we act? What is the proper way to get good results?
Friend2: Krishna consciousness. Bhakti-yoga. Be conscious of the Supreme Lord. Always think of Him. That is the best positive action. Since it is physical work, it is karma. But when the consciousness changes from focus on personal desire to sole interest on God’s pleasure, the karma turns into bhakti. In bhakti you can be doing anything and stay on the right path. The gopis of Vrindavana engaged in trade. They sold their excess milk products to the neighboring town of Mathura. The king of that town was a bad guy, but there was still commerce going on. The devotee is not so interested in political issues relating to economics and the like. They are satisfied in the self, since they know the self is intimately connected with the Supreme Self.
Company overseas to gain upper hand,
Free trade principle, where to stand?
Not of primary concern for the wise,
Since for spiritual benefit he tries.
Gopis in Mathura their products sold,
Where king of many offenses untold.
Good credit only from good deeds to earn,
For bhaktas Lord’s pleasure the lone concern.