I’ve been bashing Bush for several reasons lately, which can be summarized as:
1) He’s an idiot.
2) Big business owns him, especially big oil.
3) He pursues policies that seem frighteningly disconnected from reality.
4) He’s an idiot.
But by now we know all that, don’t we? What of the other guy, John Kerry, the man that almost everyone assumes is the only alternative to Bush? Well, one thing we know is that he promises to keep jobs from going overseas. Uh, huh. He’s standing up in front of unions and laborers promising to keep their jobs safe. There are only two problems with that plan. He can’t, and even is he could he shouldn’t.
Starting with can’t, the president of the United States just doesn’t have the power to tell companies how to run their businesses. Businesses are going to find ways to cut costs or they’re going to go out of business. He may try to penalize companies for using offshore labor, but in the end the trend is too big unless he closes the border completely to imports. That would see him sitting out on Pennsylvania Avenue with his suitcases piled around him.
And well it should. Our economy depends on that cheap labor. Everyone is in favor of keeping the jobs here until they see the price of their shoes double. Technology at home and cheap labor abroad are the two things keeping our economy growing virtually inflation-free, and both are bad for unskilled and low-skilled domestic labor.
Another reason to avoid protectionism (and that is what Kerry is proposing, job protectionism) is that the only way to equalize labor markets worldwide is to let the work flow between countries. Creating jobs in those countries where labor is currently extremely cheap (which is synonymous with abusive to the workers) will eventually lead to better work conditions and higher wages, as workers gain power and have more choice. Only where jobs are plentiful can a person earn a decent wage.
As an aside, this does not mean I endorse US companies tolerating inhuman conditions in their supplier’s factories overseas. The amount of money that moves through some of those empires dwarfs the economies of some nations*. Our corporations could do a great deal more to end suffering than they do, and without much effect on the bottom line. However, it is consumer activism, not the government, that has the power to alter the behavior of multinational corporations.
How do we keep America employed? The same way we always have, by having the best-educated, most productive workers in the world. Not the cheapest, the best. That means taking all that money we’re flushing down the toilet in Iraq and defending Western Europe and putting it into schools and training programs here in the US. It was not long ago that technology companies simply could not find enough qualified workers. That has returned to a more rational keel lately, but the supply of skilled workers will continue to be an important factor to any company choosing where to open its next plant.
Finally, there is national security. Poverty in the third world, exploding populations, and dwindling resources are the biggest threats our nation faces. We’ll forget all about Iraq if Mexico begins to falter. Prosperity is the worst enemy of tyranny. It is no accident that despots keep their citizens poor and ill-educated. We need to spread prosperity, and that means spreading jobs. That fact that it makes us more prosperous as a whole also is just one of those miracles of free trade.
*If anyone wants to fact-check me on that, I’d like to hear from you. I’m just kind of assuming.