Friday, January 30, 2004

ALL THEY WILL CALL YOU WILL BE: EMPLOYEE. Three bits of posted matter together make an interesting point, though perhaps not one their individual authors intended.

At the American Enterprise Institute, Douglas A. Irwin declares "Outsourcing is Good for America."

Never mind that the tide of emigrating jobs is a large part of our current employment crisis, as the demand for labor does not necessarily involve American laborers, even in previously outsourcing-proof white-collar trades. Or that, in a telling bit of self-preservation, some Senators (including a few Republicans) are trying to head off the threat in their own little corner of the labor pool by placing a ban on offshore outsourcing of government jobs.

Irwin's executive summary tells us that this hemmorhage simply means "the world is changing." We shouldn't bother about why, or who has made it change. He admits that "the service sector, which traditionally has been insulated from international competition, is now ripe for outsourcing on a global scale," but asks us to take heart because this does not mean production is down. Your boss, or your former boss, is doing fine. Look at the manufacturing base, Irwin says; "manufacturing production has risen about 40 percent over the past decade... Of course, the share of the American workforce in manufacturing has fallen steadily over the postwar period because of vast increases in productivity, but this is a worldwide phenomenon."

In other words: it's the same shit all around, bro. Deal with it. Besides, costs will fall! "If a capable radiologist in India can read x-ray pictures at a quarter of the cost of doing so domestically," says Irwin, "important health care services can be delivered at lower cost to everyone, putting a brake on exploding medical costs."

Everyone who sees the cost of medical care going down anytime soon, raise your hands. No takers? Well, again, don't worry, because the New Way "includes such things as ensuring the portability of health and pension benefits in order to reduce the adverse impact of changing jobs, which must inevitably happen in an ever-changing economy." So when you're canned, your COBRA eligibility may be extended.

There's nothing here about getting the laid-off back to work. It's all about protecting companies from the crippling burden of outsourcing bans. Indeed, the worker doesn't enter into the equation; it's not for him or her that it was written. It's for those that run the decreasingly-employing firms, and their advocates on Wall Street, and in Washington.

Meanwhile over at the Seattle Times, Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz sums it up more succinctly:
The general principle of trade is, everyone benefits. Now, there are many circumstances where that general principle doesn't work, particularly when you don't have free and fair trade rules.

Countries are not being given the choice of rules. You say you have to open your markets. If you don't, here will be the consequences. The consequences are so dire they open their markets.

At that point, goods start flowing in. The guys who are buying the goods see (a benefit) from subsidized American corn or milk. But the people who lose their jobs are worse off.

If society as a whole isn't able to create new jobs, what you've done is move people from low-productivity jobs to unemployment. And that's not good for growth. That's not what's supposed to happen.
Over at OpinionJournal, where the free (as in "totally unencumbered by the concerns of puny humans") market rules, Tunku Varadarajan belittles a humble illustrator who has refused to ornament an article with which he does not agree. This sends a supposedly soul-searching Varadarajan ("worried that I had perhaps behaved like a Neanderthal" -- and could that be him? With his tailored cuffs and fat paycheck, yet could it?) to walk among the other artists-for-hire -- a little touch of Tunku in the night! -- to ask, was the man reasonable?

While one draughtsman says he "kinda admired the guy, in a funny kind of way, for his political purity," they all agree with their employer that the refusenik "went too far." One even shines Tunku's buttons (or assuages his own pride) more than this, explaining that "People sometimes ask me if I'm an 'artist.' I tell them I'm an 'illustrator.' The difference defines your prickly encounter with the person who makes his living as an illustrator but somehow thinks of himself as an artist."

Satisfied, Tunku concludes that the artist in question "must 'either be very young, or very rich.'" He doesn't explain the quote marks -- something a grandee told him at a gala once, perhaps? -- but adds that the third option may be that the artist is just "very silly."

"Silly" is an instructive choice of word here, implying that the loss of a paying gig for a freelance illustrator, whose income is probably not so much, is without consequence. And for Varadarajan, I'm sure that's so.

Still, one marvels that Varadarajan, formerly a lecturer in law at Oxford University and a longtime Wall Street Journal editor, took the time to glean quotes from the lowly scribblers of his Art Department at all. Perhaps he understands that the plebes will need a different sort of convincing than that offered by Irwin at the AEI. And that sort of convincing traditionally involves some overt humiliation, some ritual reminder -- not just of the recalictrant, but of those who had once labored with him -- that it is only a silly one, a self-styled "artist," a self-marginalizing outcast, who would refuse the king's (or even Tunku's) shilling. For they are not artists (or craftsmen, or union men, or International Workers of the World, or any such lofty sort), but merely employees, and even that slight status, in a world that is changing, may be taken away from them.

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