Fish And Chips To Rise In Price – Britain And Iceland Have Fought Wars Over This You Know – Forbes

We have the distressing news that the archetypal British dish of old, fish and chips, is to rise in price as the result of a fishermen’s strike in Iceland. At which point we can and should note that Britain and Iceland have had a number of wars (well, “wars” is a better description) over this very issue. The end result of all of it being that we can now prove that Donald Trump and all other protectionists are wrong on the subject of trade. For if Icelandic fishermen going on strike raises the price of fish in Britain then it must be the British eating the Icelandic fish. And if that’s so then there is absolutely no point in worrying about whether it’s Brits or Vikings hauling the fish up–the same people get to eat the fish so why worry?

Or as we might put it more formally, it is consumption which is the thing which matters and things which don’t affect consumption don’t therefore matter:

The price of fish and chips could rise in the coming weeks as a strike by Icelandic fishermen threatens the UK’s supply of fresh cod and haddock.

So, there’s our proof that the fish from those waters is indeed eaten in the UK:

Grimsby, which is Britain’s biggest importer of fresh Icelandic fish, has been hit by reduced stock levels triggered by the dispute, which centres on Icelandic trawlermen’s demand for a larger share of the value of their catch.

Well, that might well be an interesting dispute between the fishermen and the boat owners but it’s not relevant to he point I want to make here:

“It is a question of how long the strike goes on and the longer it goes on, the worse it gets,” said Martyn Boyers, chief executive of the group which operates Grimsby fish market.

“Iceland is one of the main suppliers of fish into the UK. It has hit our business particularly badly because we do rely on Icelandic fish.
“In due course there will be a knock-on effect as there will be less fish available and if the demand stays the same then generally the price will go up.”

Well, yes, that’s how the price system is supposed to work so there’s that comfort. But the point I do want to make is something that people outside Britain might not have heard much about–nor younger Britons these days. That’s that Britain and Iceland had a series of wars about this very issue. Not quite shooting wars but very close to it. Royal Navy ships escorting British fishing fleets, Icelandic patrol boats attempting to cut the lines connecting the nets to the boats (loosing an entire net being a very expensive proposition) and so on. It all actually started in 1415 (no, really) but only really became important with the steam trawler in the 1890s and then became serious post WWII.

The argument was, quite simply, who got to be the fishermen in those rich waters around Iceland? Or if we cast it in more economic terms, who got to be the producers, the exploiters of the natural resource? We can see that this has a direct application to what the protectionists tell us. We must be doing the producing for ourselves, we can’t just let those foreigners take all the jobs and then sell the stuff to us can we!?!

The economic answer being, well, of course we can. As it happens Iceland won the Cod Wars and it is those striking Icelandic fishermen who haul the cod and haddock up (well, when they’re not on strike, obviously). But look at what then happens–the fish is still eaten by the British, it even enters the distribution chain at just the same place, Grimsby, that it would have done on British ships.

That is, who is doing the fishing just doesn’t matter at all. Who gets to eat the fish, who gets to do the consuming, is the important point and as that’s not changed in the slightest then who does the fishing is of no moment at all. Or in the more general economic point–who makes the stuff doesn’t matter, someone in Akron or someone in Anhui is of no import whatsoever, all that matters is that it is made so that it can be consumed. Protectionism is therefore based upon a false premise.


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