Nobel economist Michael Spence, working at the behest of the Council on Foreign Relations, has co-authored a startling new paper with NYU’s Sandile Hlatshwayo. The two did an enormous amount of number crunching and analyzing of how the US economy has been structured for the past 20 years, and in particular, they examined employment trends. It was not a pretty picture that emerged from all of those details.
Well, I guess that would all depend upon which side of the fork you’re on, wouldn’t it?
As the output and productivity of the American worker increased—a LOT, I should add—during the past two decades, jobs still continued to be outsourced to other countries with cheaper labor pools, and fewer opportunities for economic advancement presented themselves for many Americans. All the while, the $$$ for all of that increased productivity didn’t go to the worker bees themselves, it went to the top, to the capitalists and investors class. To parasites like Mitt Romney and his buddies at Bain Capital.
The CFR report’s conclusions are particularly grim for people who have found themselves slipping out of the middle class towards precarious lives and who feel hopeless to do anything about it, but it’s Marxism 101 for the economic literate.
It’s a race to the bottom and “tag” you’re it!
The take-away is this: Globalization is making U.S. companies more productive, but the benefits are mostly being enjoyed by the C-suite. The middle class is struggling to find work, and many of the jobs available are poorly paid.
Here’s how Mr. Spence and Ms. Hlatshwayo put it: “The most educated, who work in the highly compensated jobs of the tradeable and nontradeable sectors, have high and rising incomes and interesting and challenging employment opportunities, domestically and abroad. Many of the middle-income group, however, are seeing employment options narrow and incomes stagnate.”
Mr. Spence notes the benefit to consumers of globalization: “Many goods and services are less expensive than they would be if the economy were walled off from the global economy, and the benefits of lower prices are widespread.” He also points to the positive impact of globalization, particularly in China and India: “Poverty reduction has been tremendous, and more is yet to come.”
I’m sure Americans living in “right to work” states are just jumping for joy to be competing with wage-earners in China and India.
Free trade and the free flow of capital means lower prices for the consumer, true, but when someone in China or India is doing that very same computer programming job that used to be your job in the midwest—information workers will have the most precarious jobs of all moving forward—it’s not like you’ll be able to afford much more than rice and beans at the Wal-Mart anyway.
Yes, there’s a high cost to low price. The two are pretty well interconnected, as we’ve seen, but this is what the “free market” is supposed to do, silly. And don’t forget, it was Wal-Mart that put the local shops out of business to begin with.
Karl Marx predicted all of this. ALL of it.
He’s the most accurate prophet in history, with a record a helluva lot better than Nostradamus!
And to all of the naysayers who claim that a “command economy” doesn’t work, I present to you Wal-Mart itself, the most successful example of a command economy the world has ever seen!
Mr. Spence’s paper should be read alongside the work that David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been doing on the impact of the technology revolution on U.S. jobs. Mr. Autor finds that technology has had a “polarizing” impact on the U.S. work force — it has made people at the top more productive and better paid and hasn’t had much effect on the “hands-on” jobs at the bottom. But opportunities and salaries in the middle have been hollowed out.
Taken together, here’s the big story Mr. Spence and Mr. Autor tell: Globalization and the technology revolution are increasing productivity and prosperity. But those rewards are unevenly shared — they are going to the people at the top in the United States, and enriching emerging economies over all. But the American middle class is losing out.
It may seem surprising that it takes a Nobel laureate and sheaves of economic data to reach this conclusion. But the analysis and its provenance matter, because this basic truth about how the world economy is working today is being ignored by most of the politicians in the United States and denied by many of its leading business people.
Here’s where it gets much grimmer, as the article’s author, Chrystia Freeland (who has been the Global Editor-at-Large of Reuters since 2010) tells of a recent breakfast at the CFR that she moderated. The speaker that morning was Randall Stephenson, chief executive of AT&T.
If this is the mindset of the leaders of corporate America today, we’re doomed:
One of the Council of Foreign Relations members in the audience was Farooq Kathwari, the chief executive of Ethan Allen, the furniture manufacturer and retailer. Mr. Kathwari is a storybook American entrepreneur. He arrived in New York from Kashmir with $37 in his pocket and got his start in the retail trade selling goods sent to him from home by his grandfather.
He asked Mr. Stephenson: “Over the last 10 years, with the help of technology and other things, we today are doing about the same business with 50 percent less people. We’re talking of jobs. I would just like to get your perspectives on this great technology. How is it going to overall affect the job markets in the next five years?”
Mr. Stephenson said not to worry. “While technology allows companies like yours to do more with less, I don’t think that necessarily means that there is less employment opportunities available. It’s just a redeployment of those employment opportunities. And those employees you have, my expectation was, with your productivity, their standard of living has actually gotten better.”
HUH? Redeployment of employment opportunities? What the fuck IS this guy talking about?
I recently heard a radio report that indicated that there is ONE factory employing around 15 people in Japan that’s responsible for nearly 80% of the world’s output of a certain sized HD screen. Consider how many people would have worked at a Magnavox television plant in the mid-fifties. Where were those employment opportunities ultimately “redeployed?”
With advanced automation, robotics and so forth, the American worker always was going to become obsolete in the long run, but the speed with which it is happening has gone from a trot to full gallop since the early 90s. Stephenson’s contention that standards of living have improved is ludicrous. Perhaps for him and for all the Cuban cigar-smoking fatcats at the country club in Westchester, but what about the rest of us?
Maybe the all-powerful, wise and benevolent free market will help us?!?!
(Sorry all of that cigar smoke is making me *cough*)
Mr. Spence’s work tells us that simply isn’t happening. “One possible response to these trends would be to assert that market outcomes, especially efficient ones, always make everyone better off in the long run,” he wrote. “That seems clearly incorrect and is supported by neither theory nor experience.”
Not to take anything away from Mr. Spence and Ms. Hlatshwayo, but there was this famous book written by a Mr. Marx and a Mr. Engels—two of the most dangerous minds in history—a hundred and fifty-some years ago that predicted all of this shit with amazing, laser-like accuracy.
Mr. Spence says that as he was doing his research, he was often asked what “market failure” was responsible for these outcomes: Where were the skewed incentives, flawed regulations or missing information that led to this poor result? That question, Mr. Spence says, misses the point. “Multinational companies,” he said, “are doing exactly what one would expect them to do. The resulting efficiency of the global system is high and rising. So there is no market failure.”
Okay, stop for a second. Read that last paragraph again, won’t you? Now read it a third time.
Mr. Spence is telling us that global capitalism is working, but that the American middle class is losing out anyway.
Yep, exactly like a certain Mr. Marx predicted would happen. What remains to be seen is how long it takes for the average American to wake up to what’s going on, when the elites are so hellbent on trying to keep them as confused as possible. Less sophisticated people can be forgiven for falling for conspiracy theories, when the REAL action is right out in the open: No one ever thinks to look there!
Mr. Spence admits he has no easy answers. American politicians are focused on a budget debate that is superficial, premature and ultimately about something pretty easy to figure out. Instead, we should all be working on the much bigger problem of how to make capitalism work for the American middle class.
Karl Marx had the answer to that, too…