Jewish World Review April 26, 2001 / 4 Iyar, 5761
Friedman's assessment is important because he is as close as there is to the voice of the globalization establishment. The establishmentarian view, as it has evolved in the face of increasing criticism, is that globalization is great not only because it creates wealth in the developed countries but because it functions as a sort of super-missionary, spreading both wealth and freedom among the less blessed nations of the earth.
Last week in Quebec, George W. Bush summed up the perceived wisdom: "We seek freedom not only for people living within our borders but also for commerce moving across our borders. Free and open trade creates new jobs and new income. It lifts the lives of all our people, applying the power of markets to the needs of the poor. . . . And open trade reinforces the habit of liberty."
This argument is true as far as it goes. As Friedman's paper is currently reporting in a series on free trade, the blessings of unfettered commerce are a great deal less than munificent; but trade does bring jobs -- sweatshop jobs, gutter-level jobs, but still jobs -- to places where there were no jobs before. And, indeed, free trade has historically pulled freedom in its wake (although, as China is proving, this need not necessarily be so).
The problem with this argument is that it is a very fat herring of the reddest hue. It is beside the central political, economic and moral point of the whole debate. President Bush gave the game away in unscripted remarks on his proposal to create a hemispheric Free Trade Area of the Americas (at last, truly the world's largest shopping mall). Addressing demands that participating countries adhere to minimum standards of worker treatment and environmental protection, Bush said the agreement certainly must not contain "codicils to destroy the spirit of free trade." He added: "While I understand that some unionists are interested in making sure there's labor protections, I don't want those labor protections to be used to destroy the free trade agreement."
As Bush inadvertently let out, the purpose of globalism is to allow capital to freely chase profits around the world: to allow corporations to make more money by manufacturing their goods in dirt-wage, low-regulation undeveloped countries instead of in high-wage, high-regulation developed countries. This is globalism's reason for being; the spread of democracy and wealth is a byproduct.
This means three things: Manufacturing jobs must migrate from developed countries to undeveloped countries; worker and environmental standards in undeveloped countries must remain lower than those in developed countries; and, as undeveloped countries develop and these standards (and thus costs) rise, manufacturing jobs must migrate again -- to countries still lower on the ladder.
In short, what the unionists know is that globalization ultimately depends on driving manufacturing jobs out of the country where they live. This may result in what Friedman calls "real jobs for real people" in Africa, but it also results in the loss of real jobs for real people in, say, Akron, Ohio. More than that: It results in real costs to the nation as a whole; and these costs are massive. When, as has happened all across the country, a factory shuts its doors and shatters a town, turning what had been a productive community into a ward of the state, what does that cost America? Over time, many, many millions, a price that globalists ignore.
Finally, globalization results in the loss of a way of life, what was quaintly known as the American way of life. You know: Get out of high school, go down to the factory, get a job, buy a car, get married, buy a house, buy a boat for the lake, send the kids to college, retire on a decent pension.
In the long run, global free trade may be, as its boosters say, to the greater good of all. But in the short and even medium run, in any developed country, it is to the greater pain of many for the greater gain of a few. Those who do not understand this may be well intentioned, but the people who live in globalism's growing number of ghost towns must consider them shockingly ill