I was shopping a few weeks ago looking through for Christmas gifts. While I was shopping I heard a couple looking also shopping near me; they were talking about whether to buy a television from South Korea or Japan. They ended their discussion buy stating well they are both produced in China anyway so it doesn’t matter. This made me laugh at the time. I still find it assuming the perception we have about products and production. Now that couple may have been right the components of both televisions could have been produced in China, but why would that be a bad thing. The disdain they used was the saddest and most humorous part. It is with this experience that I then take on Tim Harford’s chapter 9 of The Undercover Economist.
Harford’s Beer, Fries, and Globalization deals with no other than, yeah you guessed it, international economic relationships: a.k.a. Globalization. Harford really gets into the issues that distress, at least american, consumers. One of the more important points he makes, considering today’s scare with the subject, is of Global Environmental issues. There is a good argument that increased economic prosperity and globalization in particular are causing environmental damage. But another issue scares people more in my area of the world: CHINA IS STEALING OUR JOBS AND OUR COUNTRY! A statement I hear at least four times a day it seems.
First, a word on my circumstances and the location where I commonly hear this. As any other undergrad college student I don’t have a career and work with others who are either fellow students or under-educated (generally speaking) so my experiences may not parallel yours. The people I hear this argument from are generally those persons without in the way of education or training or learning. This being said they are right, in some cases, China is “stealing” untrained jobs and careers away from americans. This will hurt those whom are untrained unless the job can’t be preformed elsewhere or if we help those hurt by the change in what we produce.
Tim Harford acknowledges that people will be hurt when the career opportunities, in untrained fields, change. If alot of the untrained jobs leave the local market it will lower need for unskilled people. But did the unskilled workers follow their jobs away? Most likely not. By losing those jobs the local possibilities are hurt; it would be like trying to cram 1000 marbles into a shot glass. But Harford proposes that if we help them retrain we could then make them better off or the same off. But this leads to a problem. Not with Tim Harford’s work but with the politics and culture in which we live. Politically we have prejudices against retraining but a very politically appealing form of abusing those that are present to defend themselves. Why take the responsibility of caring for our people when we can simply blame a country that isn’t here to protect itself? Harford’s economics are right: globalization will make people better off. But we have to get over the political and cultural issues that stand in our way first. We need to be open and honest about what we are doing and whom we are blaming.