Don't hide from global competition

Everyone has some pundit with whom, for whatever reason, they are ideologically in tune, and with whom they consistently agree. My ZDNet readers have me (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...

Everyone has some pundit with whom, for whatever reason, they are ideologically in tune, and with whom they consistently agree. My ZDNet readers have me (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha...choke, cough). I have Fareed Zakaria, Editor of Newsweek International.

I have strong difficulties with people who are against globalization. I find the stance to be selfish; I think it creates problems for Americans in future that will only grow worse over time (the old "pass our problems to our children, because we don't want to deal with them now" sin); I think we don't have time to fool ourselves with the comforting fantasy of "safety" behind national borders when the kinds of technology that are "just around the corner" can be frighteningly dangerous in a discontented and economically-unequal world; I think we can't claim to truly believe in "freedom" when we base fundamental principles of human rights (where you can work, live, whether you are eligible for protection in courts, etc.) based on the accident of birth location....well, you get the idea.

This obviously applies just as much to computer programmers as it does to workers in manufacturing industries. Some of my programming colleagues, quite self-interestedly, think high tech competition is "different." Mr. Zakaria's one paragraph response to that notion in a recent article in Newsweek was particularly astute:

It's true that the pace of change is fast and often frightening. And it can cause real pain for real people. But we can't solve this by slowing down or shutting off trade. What advanced economy in history that has closed itself off from the world has prospered? Would Detroit's automakers have been better off if they had never been exposed to international competition? Perhaps the outsourcing of service jobs today is different. But for the past 50 years America has outsourced manufacturing jobs—and yet the economy and personal income and our standards of living have kept growing robustly. Why is it different if the person exposed to international competition now wears a tie?

Global competition is a reality. Lower income workers in economies with the foresight to invest heavily in technology education are a reality. We can accomodate that reality, or pretend that we can hide from it. The latter approach may have somewhat beneficial effects in the short term, but imagine an American auto industry that was protected from foreign competition. Do you remember cars from the 1970s? My family owned a Ford Pinto. I'm lucky to be alive today.

Though I favor globalization, however, I am not a believer in an Ayn Rand "let the weak die off" approach to economics. Besides being evil, it would waste the productive potential of most people on earth because it wouldn't ensure that every child gets things like a proper education or survives past infancy, which are essential components of enabling them to achieve their fullest potential (and thus contribute the most they can from an economic standpoint) irrespective of the accident of birth location. I'm a fan of Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian economist who is blatantly aware of the critical role governments play in creating the framework within which vibrant economies grow.

Economic change is scary. The solution, however, is not to stop change, but to make it less scary. Mr. Zakaria has thoughts on that as well:

What America needs is a new way to tackle trade. It is a C-and-T agenda: cushion and train. The government should help people to weather the shocks of this roller-coaster ride, and it should help train them to be better equipped for the next round of global competition. We do very little of this today. When someone loses his job in America, he loses his health care and pension. Imagine if that didn't happen—and it doesn't in other rich countries—would that worker be as terrified of change? And then imagine if he took a series of retraining and education courses to prepare him for a new job or career.

These two shock absorbers would better equip the average American to face a world of global competition. It would ease the genuine anxieties that people have about trade and build durable political support for expanding the world economy rather than walling us in. It's a more sensible solution than China bashing, bogus labor standards and protectionist subsidies. It's a New Deal for trade. Now is any Democrat willing to say that?

I couldn't have said it better myself, and I mean that quite literally.

Well, enough of my soapbox, and sorry for the deviation from proper ZDNet technology fare. But, it occurs to me...I've been blogging for ZDNet for over two years now (I started in March or April of 2005), and wrote for them even longer). That's a lot of thoughts on technology. It's nice to spike it every so often with "something else."