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Opponents of Globalization Continue to Offer Only Weak Arguments

Here’s a letter to the Atlantic:


Sen. Chris Murphy’s (D-CT) case for an American industrial policy is riddled with factual errors and legerdemain (“The Wreckage of Neoliberalism,” October 25). An example of the former is his assertion that the jobs created in America over the past 30 years by globalization “offered lower pay, fewer benefits, and less opportunity for advancement.”

In reality, economist Michael Strain found that real hourly wages – excluding benefits – earned by production and nonsupervisory workers were 34 percent higher in 2019 than in 1990.* And according to the St. Louis Fed, which has data on fringe benefits going back only to 2001, the real value of fringe benefits paid by private employers to their workers is today 89 percent higher than it was in 2001.

An example of Sen. Murphy’s legerdemain is his assertion that “[t]he consumerism that was supposed to fill our lives with the material rewards necessary for happiness instead left many feeling empty as our cultures and identities got swallowed up by the shapeless, antiseptic, profit-obsessed international economy.”

First, although Sen. Murphy uses the word “necessary,” the tone and message of his passage indicates that he really means “sufficient.” Yet just as no serious opponent of globalization denies that access to material rewards is necessary or human flourishing, no serious proponent of globalization – contrary to Sen. Murphy’s insinuation – claims that access to material rewards is sufficient for such flourishing.

Second, it’s brazen for an author to complain about obsession with profit in the same essay in which he complains about lack of wage growth. If economic gain is appropriate for workers, surely it’s appropriate also for workers’ employers. Only employers intent on earning profit remain employers, and only employers who successfully seek maximum possible profit are able to pay workers maximum possible wages.

Third, although the words “feeling empty as our cultures and identities got swallowed up by the shapeless, antiseptic, profit-obsessed international economy” seem to convey meaning, reflection reveals that this phase is meaningless word salad. What, exactly, is this “empty” feeling? Is it suffered by Americans who shop at Ikea, who buy automobiles from Japan, who work in U.S.-based factories of the Dutch company DSM, or who are employed by John Deere producing equipment for export? Would we feel less empty if the prices of the goods that we buy were higher and the wages that we earn were lower?

Do we Americans traveling abroad sense that our culture is being “swallowed” when, upon stepping out of our Hilton Hotel rooms after catching up on the news with CNN, we see on the streets of foreign cities Starbucks and McDonald’s restaurants? And is American culture so fragile that it is threatened by the likes of Volkswagen dealerships in our suburbs and “Made in Turkey” labels on our bed linens?

Finally, are Sen. Murphy and other Congressional spendthrifts so worried about the global economy being “shapeless” and “antiseptic” (whatever the heck these words even mean in this context) that they’ll stop borrowing money, much of which is loaned to the U.S. government by foreigners who acquire the dollars they lend by selling exports to Americans?

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

* Michael R. Strain, The American Dream Is Not Dead (But Populism Could Kill It) (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2020). See especially pages 45-46.

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