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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Right Wing Mantras Part III: Globalization Full Steam Ahead

The juggernaut of globalization is showing a few cracks after years and years of this ideology being taken completely for granted. Of course we must embrace the world economy; a world of efficiency and lower prices; a better world for every one of us. As this presidential race is showing, globalization now finally has more than a few critics. A few thinkers like John Ralston Saul have been pointing out globalization’s fatal flaws for over a decade but most economists were either all for it or at least waiting to see what would happen in the wake of massive outsourcing. Now we know: it is quickly turning into a disaster.

To criticize globalization was seen as the same thing as criticizing free trade. The opposite of free trade is protectionism. Everyone sees protectionism as a bad thing, and it probably is, but globalization is not the same as free trade. Manufacturing jobs have been pouring out of the United States at an alarming rate. Business owners claim that products can be made more efficiently in other countries. This is the central lie of the entire globalization argument: American workers are not inefficient.

What proponents of “globalization at any cost” fail to mention or remember is that we here in the United States spent the end of the 19th century and most of the 20th century in a sometimes desperate struggle to define acceptable labor and environmental policies. American manufacturers are bound by the social contracts forged on the fires of countless strikes and in countless senate hearings. The fact that manufacturers are bound by these contracts does not make them inefficient, it makes them responsible.

On the other hand, the Chinese side-stepped these messy labor-management struggles and their feet aren’t held to the fire on conservation issues. Of course they can make stuff cheaper if they can pay their workers next-to-nothing and then dump their waste in the Yangste.

I was paging through the Asian Economic Review a week ago when I came upon an article about Malaysia complaining about the loss of its manufacturing jobs. American manufacturers outsourced a lot of jobs to Malaysia. Now those workers have been undercut by workers in India and China. The same thing happened with U.S. steel production. At first we outsourced steel production to South Korea because they paid theie workers slave wages. As soon as the workers there rose up to demand better pay the managers packed off the steel industry and went to cheaper pastures.

For the most part globalization has been great at making some people obscenely rich while a lot of displaced American workers are stumbling around working two jobs to try to get back to where they were before their manufacturing jobs were sent overseas.

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