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Pity the Misunderstanding

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

Kathleen Parker rightly criticizes Republicans for becoming a party of angry, fear-lathered excluders (“The GOP is becoming the party of exclusion,” July 31).  But when she laments “the pitiless evolutionary march of globalization” not only does she reveal her own misunderstanding of the economy, she gives aid and comfort both to GOP excluders and to Sandersnistas who suffer many of the same misunderstandings.

In what way is globalization “pitiless”?  Is it because it creates an ever-growing abundance of new goods and services that consumers choose to buy?  Is it in the fact that it lowers the prices of food, clothing, furniture, electronics, communications, and (for example, by expanding the sizes of pharmaceutical-companies’ markets) medicines?

Is globalization “pitiless” because it allows many desperately poor workers in the developing world to earn incomes that enable them and their families to live above subsistence?  Or perhaps globalization is “pitiless” because it obliges entrepreneurs and workers in the developed world – nearly all of whom are multiple times richer (thanks to globalization!) than are the foreigners about whom they complain they must compete – to adjust their actions to the choices of the consumers whom they serve?

Globalization is no more or less pitiless than is economic competition generally and what Deirdre McCloskey calls “market-tested innovation” – the same competition and innovation that over the past few centuries crafted our current high standard of living.  So unless Ms. Parker believes that it is gentle and just for rich first-world workers to prevent poor third-world workers from improving their lives – unless Ms. Parker thinks it humane for consumers to be forced to accept whatever products are offered, and at whatever prices are demanded, by existing producers rather than motivate producers to work hard and creatively to please consumers – she should not describe globalization as “pitiless.”

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercator Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

I did not have space in my letter to point out the following: Parker’s welcome claim (near the end of her column) that she favors “voluntary community” is very difficult to square with her suggestion that people ‘pitilessly’ unleash harm when they voluntarily choose, without regard to the artificial lines that are political borders, with whom they will engage in commerce.