Monday, February 27, 2017

Bad Advice

One of the things about the American political system that we can do without is its tendency towards bitterness, anger and vindictiveness. Being wrong-thinking brings suffering, and that suffering is deserved so long as the wrong thinking persists. When I first read the above, what struck me is that all of it is bad advice, to the last word.

The "structure of power" that allows an employer's choice to relocate a job is called technology. From ships to planes to high-speed internet, advancing technology has had the effect of making the world effectively smaller, meaning that more and more people around the world are now effectively in close enough proximity to be able to do work for otherwise local employers. The container ship has sailed, and it's not coming back. The belief it was created solely by the greed of "the 1%" is a fallacy. Even if we stop working on new and better ways to directly give the global workforce access to the markets of first and second world nations, the fact of the matter is that other technologies will be pressed into service. Autonomous vehicles, faster and faster internet infrastructure, better education - all of these things make it easier to move good and services around the globe. And they aren't going to go away.

The "structure of power" that incents an employer's choice to relocate a job is called economics. The fact of the matter is that as goods and services are produced in a globalized marketplace, some people will be willing to do work for a lower standard of living than others, because it's still a step up from where they came from. Yes, there governments, whether they be in other states, or India or the United Kingdom, that have found a way to put a thumb on the scale - taxing their own citizens to attract jobs away from other people. But even in the absence of that, for some people, their comparative advantage is that they feel themselves to be living like kings on wages that would beggar someone else. Their poverty, relative or absolute, is an advantage, and one that they exploit in order to destroy it. We live in a society in which we equate affluence with possessions. And so the less expensive possessions are, the better off we see ourselves. According to Walmart "We save people money so they can live better," through the more efficient transfer of wealth from liquidity into goods and services. And everyone is on board with this. While the Michael Chertoff claim that to have Americans pick apples, we'd have to pay $16 each for them may be overstated, we are, as a nation, price sensitive. And on the one hand, this leads to all sorts of strangeness, it also leads to straightforward cost-cutting. And if moving a job to Mexico, India or Botswana to offer a wage that's one-eighth of what an American would make means that some fraction of the retail price can either be shaved or pocketed (or a bit of both), then that's what's going to happen.
Instead of attacking your fellow worker, the one who's willing to work for less than a legal wage to feed his family, maybe you should go after the technological advances and economic forces that allow him to have the opportunity to take that work.
"There," as the saying goes. "I fixed it for you."

The fact of the matter is that we live in a society that has come to depend on the existence of poverty to function as it does. And while I understand the point that it does no good to be angry with someone who has taken advantage of a door out of the grinding poverty that they found themselves in, I don't know that looking for ways to chain it shut is any better.

This can all be seen as part of a process of creative destruction. And in such a process, it's always better when the process of creation results in destruction than to have a desperate need for creativity to mitigate against the effects of destruction. And in a lot of ways our problem isn't that the interests of the wealthy and powerful are served by driving destruction - instead it's that their interests are often served by implementing open checks on creativity - and it is this retardation of innovation that leads to the problems that we have today. Not that demand can continue to rise indefinitely in the fact of constant efficiency gains - but when the new industries that would take up the slack in the labor market are stifled, people feel a need to hold on the jobs of the past, jobs that the global poor are learning the skills to perform and are no longer locked out of simply by a lack of proximity.

Whether it coes about as a result of attacking fellow workers, or attempting to undermine the forces that enable them to be workers, it speaks to the fact that our issue is not that one person or another has a job. It's that the system is set up in such a way that only one worker can do well at a time. And part of the issue with a standard of living that is fueled by someone's poverty is that it doesn't care where that poverty lives. It doesn't matter which worker loses out, so long as one of them loses. Certain people have preferences, yes, but the structures of everyday life don't care.

Capital is dearer than labor. This is not due to the structures of power. Its due to the broader way in which we have organized our society. The fact that what separates people is not a disagreement over whether it should change, but how it should be enforced may demonstrate that.

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