Why globalization has become a bad word
Free trade. The two words that probably have saved most human lives in the history of our species. Yet, globalization has become an increasingly bad word. Why?
The main libertarian argument is that globalization is not necessarily free trade. A free trade agreement can be written in one page. Every extra page beyond that, describes exceptions to free trade. In practice this means that globalization and so-called free trade agreements involve a whole lot of unfree trade.
And when you have all of these fancy rules, someone needs to administrate them. Who? Globalist bureaucrats. Thus, globalization often secretly means centralization of power to global institutions, like moving power out of London and into Brussels. Viewed in that context, Brexit could be seen as a form of decentralization: bringing back the power from a globalist centralized institution like the EU, to the local government and its constituents.
These are arguments that are easy to understand in a libertarian context, but what about protectionism? Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been gaining massive voter support from people on both sides who like the message of “bringing back jobs.” If you like and appreciate free trade, how do you square a circle like that?
The standard libertarian response to that is that outsourcing of manual labor to poorer countries is a good thing, because we in the West can focus on doing all the brainy stuff, the quality stuff. Let them do the easy stuff, the argument goes, because we will benefit from the lower prices of lots of goods, and we will just do the technologically and scientifically harder stuff instead. Everybody wins.
Except that there is a hidden false premise in that argument: we are all created equal. That’s just not true. It is highly politically uncorrect to talk about cognitive abilities, because it often leads to very touchy discussions about race and gender. Because of this the left has promoted the creationist belief that intelligence has nothing to do with the brain. Intelligence is not grown biologically, it is learned in schools and universities, they say. Therefore, the problem of making us competitive against low-paid unskilled workers in developing countries is for everyone to get a university degree. We’ll all be rocket scientists and genetic engineers.
Except, of course, that this is a fantasy. There is a bell curve of abilities. About half the population in the West has its strengths in academic abilities, and have what it takes to get a university degree. The other half has its strength in practical abilities, and can probably never complete an academic degree. No amount of education can change that.
If we include this inconvenient fact into the narrative, the story of globalization changes quite dramatically. The above story is still true for the academic half of the population. They can easily compete with the cheap labor in developing countries. They benefit greatly from practical jobs being outsourced.
The other half loses in that competition. They see their jobs disappearing to China, Mexico and India, and not enough practical skill jobs are created to compensate for it. They can be good steel mill or automobile workers, but not good doctors and software engineers.
The other half see themselves falling further and further behind. Yes, to some extent they benefit from cheaper phones and clothes made in China, but all the capital that benefit from global investment is owned by the academic half of the population.
To the practical half of the population, iconically represented by the American rust belt, globalization has so far not been great, and it can’t really be great. Given this new and untold narrative, the surprising rise and appeal of people like Donald Trump makes a whole lot more sense. When Donald Trump says “make America great again”, he is talking directly to all those long-ignored Rust Belters for whom America is not great anymore.
The stealth rise of globalization as a bad word happened because elitists did not want to have an honest conversation about the bell curve distribution of cognitive abilities. The elitists are not alone in this failure. Proponents of the free market have also failed to tackle this issue and provide an answer other than “we will all be rocket scientists.”
Well, it’s time to start having that honest conversation. I don’t pretend to have all the answers to it, but I can at least point to some potential solutions. As a free marketeer, I am generally fond of global trade, so my focus will be on looking for alternatives to protectionism, which is becoming ever more popular among a growing segment of the population.
Proposal: a revival of the stay-at-home mother
Feminists are spoiled upperclass women who hate children. They hate women because their primary role in society has always been to have children, and they hate men because they are envious of them and want their cool jobs. These influential women went to war against the traditional nuclear family in the 1960s, and bullied women out of their homes and into jobs that could be taxed.
Some argue that this was good for economic growth, at least in the short run, but the long term cost is now becoming more clear. You can be a good mother, and you can have a good career, but you can’t do both. Therefore a lot of women have opted not to have children. Some want to have children, but feel forced to take paid work, and they hate it. The children are suffering from it, being alienated and orphaned from their parents. A lot of women hate it because they just really want to stay at home and be good mothers. Lower birth rates means that future generations will pay for the feminist narcissism.
The first step would simply be to stop bullying women who want to stay at home with their kids.
By starting to praise the stay-at-home mother and making it legitimate for women to work at home with their own family, we can achieve a lot of good things at once. The depressed birth rates can be improved. Many women (and their husbands!) can be happier, and lots of children will benefit from a better childhood. In terms of the labor market, when many women withdraw and start working from home, it means less competition for the paid jobs. This will to some extent counteract the jobs lost overseas to emerging economies due to globalization.
So what kind of work can a stay-at-home mother do that is of value and at the same time a source of pride and respect? Today a lot of the heavy house chores are gone. Electrical appliances has reduced the workload from maybe 8-10 hours a day to only 1-2 hours a day. This frees up a lot of time to do other stuff.
First, processed food is nice for those who cannot cook or don’t have time for it, but in terms of quality and health benefits nothing can replace home cooked food. Today it is a privilege to be able to eat non-processed food created directly from fresh ingredients. There is a growing obesity problem all over the world, and much of it is due to fast food and processed food that are low in nutrient value and high in fat and sugar. A lot of this can be solved simply by returning to home cooking.
Second, studies have shown that parents who homeschool their children do a better job than public schools. It would be good for both the children and the family bonding if more of the educational responsibilities were carried by the parents. Having kids is not primarily about doing house chores. It is about creating and cultivating life.
Third, women would actually have time to have more babies, thereby restoring the birth rate to a sustainable level. Having more kids is a natural way to create more work that doesn’t require PhDs or a gruellingly long education.
I have a few other half-cooked ideas about how to create more practical jobs for men, but I would like to invite others to start contributing to this conversation. Any other ideas out there? How can we create more practical jobs that doesn’t involve protectionism?
philosophical, technological, political and economical ponderings