Thursday, May 25, 2006

Column on Globalization's Aggravations

Globalization's Aggravations

Tibor R. Machan

What many people object to in globalization is not all that different
from what they object to in capitalism?free markets are highly volatile;
jobs can be found and then lost; products appear and then disappear;
services cost too little and then too much; innovations displace products
we have gotten used to but we also benefit from them big time; commerce
seems to take over culture, eradicate distinctions, etc. ~There is what
Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction" going on all the time and
when its impact is felt by oneself or one's loved ones, it is not always

Yet, the benefits of globalization, as of capitalism, are mostly accepted
without much hesitation. Less expensive clothing, cars, electronics,
travel, and so forth are rarely lamented. And the great variety of goods
and services all this makes possible is also widely welcome.

One thing that underlies the complaints about globalization and
capitalism is that these upset the status quo. Just after one has moved
into a neighborhood, settled into a new home and placed one's kids into
schools, joined a church, all of this can be turned upside down by an
economic transition?the firm one works for is downsizing, is moving
abroad, is outsourcing one's work, or something else akin to these. Not
that this happens a lot but it can and that is scary to most folks.

Yet, at the same time, few people really prefer stagnation. When
computers replaced typewriters, few protested. When CDs replaced
cassettes, again there was but the faintest protest, mostly from those
involved in manufacturing the obsolete product. ~And this has been going
on for generations?the consuming public welcomes innovation, improvements
on products and services that come from the encouraging conditions of free
markets, while in some industries there is panic.

So, unions are notorious for promoting featherbedding, making jobs that
have no real function any longer. A most recent case reported involved a
new urinal that doesn't require flushing. Don't ask me for the
details?it's a baffling idea. But, the story goes, when in Philadelphia it
was recently introduced, the plumber's union negotiated a deal whereby
despite the fact that it wasn?t needed, plumbing was supplied so that
plumbers wouldn't have to find new employment. This kind of thing used to
be routine with the railroads, when locomotives were upgraded and unions
secured deals whereby the same number of people would continue to man the

Then there are the less clearly economic concerns about globalization and
capitalism, having to do with feelings of nationalism, patriotism, ethnic
solidarity and so forth. Often people feel like they are part of a team so
that when economic realities threaten to break up the team, the members
come together and urge political measures that will protect their
interests. The motivation may well be to express loyalty to those with
whom they feel a closeness. This despite the fact that the protectionist
measures impose considerable costs on many people who then will not have a
chance to spend what they might have saved to create more jobs.

The current upheavals in France exemplify this pretty clearly?so as to
hang on to various costly benefits for the few, millions are kept from
gaining jobs because protectionist measures keep investors from starting
new enterprises. Artificial job security generates real unemployment.

In general people are at odds with themselves about much of this?they
like what's new and more efficient and satisfying but they also dislike
when this brings change into their lives. And they are even willing to
erect barriers that will prevent others from improving their lives just so
the aggravating changes will be averted. No, they really have no right to
do this, but the myth of the supreme rule of democracy blinds them to that
fact, as if the principle of lynch mobs were OK except, well, when it
comes to outright lynching.

What is needed is for folks to accept the fact that changes will occur
and they will have to prepare for them. How? That is one of the questions
they will have to answer and implement. The alternative is imposing
stagnation and regress on all.

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