Thursday, July 29, 2004

A Quote-Worthy Comment

On occasion one encounters a comment that rises above the ordinary, and this one by Ian Montgomerie is a sterling example:

The battle to prevent labor restrictions has already been lost, ideologically. Speaking as a cosmopolitan leftist I have been utterly dismayed at how the outsourcing issue has revealed that the American left is, when it comes to jobs, just as much a bunch of nativist isolationists as the American right. Pretty much every leftist public figure I know of or have read books by, is completely in the "outsourcing is EVIL" camp. This position is strong enough that in articles about unrelated subjects, people will stick in a crack bitching about outsourcing. If anything, the left demonstrates MORE hostility toward it than the right. It's already been completely and totally accepted that the orthodox position of any pro-worker, anti-corporate-greed person should be to oppose outsourcing. It makes me want to puke.

I used to think that when people complained about free trade because Nike could pay third world workers peanuts to make shoes, it was a somewhat misguided sentiment but genuinely came out of concern for people in the third world. After all, the argument seemed to imply that if Nike paid third world workers a generous salary (at least by the standards of their country) and gave them good working conditions, that it would be fine and dandy for them to manufacture their shoes wherever they want.

The outsourcing issue proved my assumption completely and totally wrong - the mainstream attitude, left as well as right, really is "fuck those darkies in the third world, America first and I'll rationalize it however I want". Because according to the "anti-Nike" style arguments, the ideal situation would be one where third world workers weren't at all exploited, but instead had the skills to be competitive for jobs that offered good working conditions and good salaries. But when people actually noticed that happening, the OUTSOURCING PANIC started. (And I put it in all caps because it's so overblown, it relies on a series of anecdotes about jobs going offshore with zero perspective on the size of this effect compared to the economy and zero perspective on any countervailing tendency of the US to expand in new industries and sell new products to the developing world).

Essentially I have not seen any opposition to outsourcing which is not precisely equivalent to the worst sort of nativist protectionism. Even the rhetoric of the rationalizations is much more strained and transparent than the anti-Nike, anti-child-labor movements. Because fundamentally, people don't care about the reasons so they aren't paying much attention to making their rationalizations plausible. As soon as middle class Americans seemed to be directly losing their jobs to developing world labor, it was full on panic mode. Reason doesn't vaguely enter into it. I actually heard of a protest against a software company that layed off a bunch of people in silicon valley to move the jobs to Montreal, Canada. Problem: it was a Canadian company and it was moving the jobs to its head office in Montreal.
Couldn't have said it better myself. This Ian Montgomerie fellow really should get his own blog.