A trampoline is a thing you jump on. If you get really good at it you can do flips and all sorts of amazing gymnastic maneuvers. Right now everyone is jumping on Donald Trump so I thought I would jump on him too. Let’s call this a Larry Cannonball on the Trumpaline.
I will leave all the exciting stuff to other people and focus on the one thing that I think I know a little about – industrialization and globalization. Okay smarty pants – those are two things but in some ways they amount to the same thing because they are known to chew up jobs. Industrialization is a force that has been going on for centuries but it got a very hot reputation when it resulted in tractors replacing horses and plows.
Ever since then we acknowledge that new technologies and innovations destroy jobs. Of course, we have also learned that while each significant industrialization phase creates its own destabilizing impacts the net result takes time and usually leads to not only more national employment but also higher wages and incomes.
Lauren’s great grandpa used to be the guy who blew out the candles in all the street lamps in Bloomington. Electricity knocked him out of work but that whole electricity thing also led to cool inventions like vacuum cleaners and blenders and pretty soon all sorts of people had great jobs as electrical engineers and bar tenders. If you take a big swig of JD, close your eyes, and think about your life you can easily think of all the labor-displacing inventions that caused similar disruptions but eventually came to be ho hum. I make light but these are no small things. When the textile industry abandoned the NE part of the US – it wasn’t very funny to those displaced by the invention of air conditioners that made work in the South more tolerable. Now we all say "yawl" and I "guarandamnteeit".
Most of us don’t fight industrialization very hard. We know it works. We like the fact that all those street lamps can be turned off with the push of one button and we like the fact that we can afford vacuum cleaners and bartenders. One of the reasons we have social programs is to try to make the transitions a little gentler. Helping those persons who become unemployed or otherwise disadvantaged by change is both good for the head and the heart. So we usually embrace change. Some of us love change but that is not necessary so long as society allows these transitions. The truth is in the pudding since not many of us are demanding a return to the horse and plow.
That brings us to globalization. Globalization is pretty much the same thing as industrialization except it allows us one more angle – the good guys (us) versus the bad guys (foreigners). Globalization is the same as industrialization because it does the same things – it creates havoc for some people while opening up avenues for growth and change for the rest of us. If a company closed operations in Indianapolis and reopened in Guadalajara Mexico you could hear the labor union and Donald Trump screaming all the way to the South Pole. How dare those blankety blanks leave Indianapolis to go to Mexico? They must be national traitors and they should be hung in the public square or in the Hoosier Dome. Trump has made it very clear that he will make America great again by pulling all those companies back to Indianapolis and Detroit. Hillary Clinton is saying similar things.
It sounds great. Let’s save American jobs. How can one argue with that? For one thing, it amounts to asking us to return to horses and wooden plows. Industrial transitions do not just occur in America. Now that dozens of countries are freer to compete in global markets the marketplace for change is everywhere. New ideas and innovations that improve our lives are developed and sold everywhere. To think that all that stuff would always be made in America does not make any sense. China will be the best place to make some items but even China is outsourcing output to Vietnam. Mexico will be a place of manufacturing for other things and they will outsource some of their supply chain to Chile. To think that Donald Trump or anyone else can or should fight globalization is silly.
For another thing fighting globalization means voting against change and the transitions that actually make American workers worth what they want to earn – close to $50,000 per year. We talk about greedy US companies who want to go to Mexico to take advantage of lower labor costs in Mexico. Now they are greedy. Yesterday and for how many years were those same companies employing American workers? Unions might complain about this or that but the truth is that many people raised families for decades because of the jobs offered by these companies. Were they greedy then? I don’t know whether they are more or less greedy today. What they are doing is fighting to succeed and in some cases to survive. Competition across the globe is intense. To not change is to die.
So long as the average income of educated and/or trained workers in many emerging markets is less than $10,000 per year it is pure folly to think that US workers hired at $50,000 will offer the best place to do business. To save the company and American jobs, a US multinational will move some operations out of the US. Of course to save the remaining jobs they will continually have to improve productivity of the domestic workforce or even the higher skilled jobs will be threatened. Think of wave after wave of enemy combatants coming after your defensive position. Building a bigger wall might work for a while. But what you really need is an advantage.
Trump vilifies other countries for trying to come into the global economy and for daring to compete with the USA. The only real solution to this challenge is not to regulate US companies but to unleash them. Making America great means American companies winning in the global marketplace. It means change and growth. Don’t tell me that centuries of US growth are over. Tell me we have a plan to empower US companies so they can do what is necessary to continue producing good jobs and incomes in America. The world is not always a fair place. Making it even less fair isn’t the solution. We have so many advantages over emerging market competitors they are impossible to list. We should use them and quit bellyaching!