On the economic “benefits” of globalization

I don’t normally watch The West Wing, but I watched a couple of episodes last night with Olivia. One of them had as a subplot the concern that a tech company was moving 17,000 programmer jobs to India, and a union organization wanted answers from the administration. The initial tone of the episode seems to speak to the concern of the workers, but the “ending moral” is that you can’t please everyone, and that globalization is ultimately “bad in the short-term but good in the long-term.”

I’m not sure if that’s the viewpoint of Aaron Sorkin, or if he simply wanted that viewpoint to show up in his show. But by hearing people talk about globalization so casually, I came to a very vivid realization. When people say, “Yes, 17,000 jobs are lost here, but it’s still good for our economy,” we don’t even realize what that person means when he or she says, “our economy.” Everyone has this different concept of the economy, and what exactly it is. For example, if I were to ask a bunch of people, even bunch of economists, what the economy is, would I get the same answer from each of them? Probably not.

Now, if we go down to the individual level, asking one of those programmers whose jobs was offshored what his economy is like, he would probably respond that his economy is quite shitty. And if we went to a community like Silicon Valley, from where the jobs were offshored, most people would say that the people of Silicon Valley are experiencing a rough economy.

But who is actually benefiting from the offshored jobs? Some people say “the corporation benefits,” but that too is an abstraction. The corporation was comprised of those 17,000 jobs (and others), so how could it possibly benefit if those jobs are gone? Definitely it doesn’t seem the corporation benefited from the relocation of 17,000 skilled workers. Do other workers benefit from the relocation of those workers? Probably not, as it creates team fragmentation, lowers morale, etc. So who benefits? Who?

Shareholders.

When people say “the economy gets better in the long-term,” what they mean is that shares of stock for shareholders goes up over time, and the stock market, as a whole, goes up. And shareholders are nothing more then the a privileged class, an elite, of America. So why do we let our economic future (the economic future of the workers) be decided by their wants and needs of the already-privileged shareholders? Why should I accept that 17,000 American jobs lost is worth the 2% increase in share price? And why do we implicitly accept this in our use of language surrounding the “national economy”?

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