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Friday, June 03, 2005

Tom Friedman's temporary sanity is cured

The old flat-earther is back with a vengeance, blaming French workers for defeating the pro-globalist EU constitution:
It is interesting because French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day. Good luck.

Voters in "old Europe" - France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy - seem to be saying to their leaders: stop the world, we want to get off; while voters in India have been telling their leaders: stop the world and build us a stepstool, we want to get on. I feel sorry for Western European blue collar workers. A world of benefits they have known for 50 years is coming apart, and their governments don't seem to have a strategy for coping.

One reason French voters turned down the E.U. constitution was rampant fears of "Polish plumbers." Rumors that low-cost immigrant plumbers from Poland were taking over the French plumbing trade became a rallying symbol for anti-E.U. constitution forces. A few weeks ago Franz Müntefering, chairman of Germany's Social Democratic Party, compared private equity firms - which buy up failing businesses, downsize them and then sell them - to a "swarm of locusts."

The fact that a top German politician has resorted to attacking capitalism to win votes tells you just how explosive the next decade in Western Europe could be, as some of these aging, inflexible economies - which have grown used to six-week vacations and unemployment insurance that is almost as good as having a job - become more intimately integrated with Eastern Europe, India and China in a flattening world.
Friedman later makes the ridiculous claim that low-wage Indian workers aren't "racing us to the bottom. They are racing us to the top."

Sorry, jerkface, 35-hour days are not a part of any top I want to race to. And not only does having everything made at the lowest possible cost make the world as a whole poorer, it makes it far more boring. Guess what! You can either work 12 hours a day at the local toilet factory or starve to death! Ain't this flat world great?

I'm currently reading James Howard Kunstler's book The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century. The book has some rather infuriating passages where Kunstler doesn't bother to check his facts, and a ridiculous defense of the war on Iraq, but it also has some of the best arguments against the gigantic crimes known as suburbanization and globalization. Here is part of his argument against Friedman-style globalization:
The idea of comparative advantage works when there is a complex local economy intact in the background of each trading partner's specialized item of production, with a variety of social roles and occupational niches to support the long-term project of community. But a locality geared to doing only one thing for export is ultimately a slave system based on the extractive economics of mining. In the extreme version of comparative advantage, under the regime of hyper-turbo late-oil-age industrialism, with its ultracheap transport and instant communications that defeated the advantages of geography, the only comparative advantages left were cheap labor and free capital. One group had all the cheap labor and another group had all the capital, and for a while one group made all the things the other group "consumed." Thus, comparative advantage became, for a time, a con game strictly for the benefit of large corporations, which ended up enjoying all the advantages while the localities sucked up the costs.

The corporations benefiting from this regime often had no physical home of their own, even in their country of origin--and not a few American corporations had moved their official address to Caribbean pseudonations, where the banking and tax laws were more agreeable. The corporations had no allegiance to any particular place or the people of that place, so the destruction they wreaked was as manifest in the ravaged towns of Ohio and upstate New York as in the environmental degradation of China. America was hardly immune to the consequences of free-market globalism. In effect, the American heartland was overtaken by a new kind of corporate colonialism, emanating from our own culture, but no less destructive than the imposition of foreign rule.

Americans failed to recognize the essential fraudulence of the idea that this destruction was "creative" and would lead to a higher good--in other words, that the end justified the means, even as they watched their towns die around them. Corporations such as Wal-Mart and its imitators used their wealth and muscle to set up "superstores" on the cheap land frontier outside small towns and put every other retail merchant out of business, often destroying most of the town's middle class. They also, incidentally, destroyed the local capacity to produce goods. And the American public went along with it for the greater good of paying a few dollars less for a hair dryer. Bargain shopping justified the extermination of the middle class and all its relations with the locality. The American people were gulled into the fantasy that every day of the year would be like Christmas, Wal-Mart style. The public enjoyed this bonanza of supercheap manufactured goods without reckoning any of the collateral costs, which were astronomical.
Of course, the whole point of Kunstler's book is that, like it or not, the global economy is doomed because of the imminent massive energy shortage. The whole point of Friedman, I guess, is that the world is flat, with limitless resources, and that capitalist economic growth can go on forever. I have no doubt that Kunstler is right. It's just a shame that there are still idiots like Friedman pushing the globalization lie, because every additional step in his wrong direction will only make the collapse that much more painful.