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Baby formula friendship
On Epictetus's advice about friendship, neo-mercantilism, and answers to the baby-formula shortage
In an effort to help alleviate the serious baby-formula shortage affecting the United States, Danone is substantially increasing production at its plant in France to provide more for export to the US. Nestle has been shipping product from the Netherlands and Switzerland. Work is being done to obtain more from Mexico, too.
■ The philosopher Epictetus wrote, "[W]hich would you rather have, a sum of money or a faithful and honorable friend?" His question was posed to the individual, but it's a sensible question to pose for a country, as well.
■ China's government has been using its Belt-and-Road Initiative to expand its national capacity to place other countries in a client-state relationship. It's basically a form of mercantilism: Using access to outlying territories to benefit the economy of the more powerful state.
■ And it is not altogether far from the relationship at least a few people have tried to envision for the United States, too: One in which all trade agreements are stacked to benefit us, with little or no regard for the other parties in the relationship.
■ But relationships -- whether interpersonal or international -- are better based upon friendship, mutuality, and finding more total good for all parties involved.
■ In this case, it's entirely possible that producers in countries like the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, and Mexico would have produced more baby formula for export to any other country, too, purely for humanitarian reasons. (And the companies involved will undoubtedly make profits from the sale.) But it certainly cannot hurt the incentive for other nations to offer help that the United States has held historically good relationships with them -- thus France can come to America's rescue today as part of a centuries-old tradition of mutual aid.
■ We should remember these events, particularly the next time trade agreements and international cooperation are put to the test in our domestic politics. In the short run, a powerful country can leverage its power to extract money and resources from others.
■ It might even feel good (to some) to throw around that weight for a while. But in the long run -- including over a matter of many generations -- it is far better to build up trust and stand behind partnerships. Even the mighty can find themselves needing a hand from time to time. To borrow a line from Aesop, kindness is never wasted. Partners are better to have than vassals.