Marolt: There’s a hole in the dike
While floating, it’s almost impossible to tell there’s a leak in the dam unless you really pay attention, marking objects at the waterline. You get a feeling, though. Something is happening that makes you uneasy. It might not help to know what’s going on. Water spreads out until the stress of being pent up is gone. It is the perfect level. Leave it to nature.
We are all in our boats and, of course, since this is not literally true, you know I’m casting a metaphor. I am talking about global waters, the fluid of the world economy in which most of us try to stay afloat and near which a few are able to stand on high ground, watching the undulating waves in fascination, only in fear of the tsunami.
The levees are breaking. Those of us accustomed to cruising the calm upstream of the floodgates are worried. People downstream, in arid land, used to living in ponds filled with trickles from over the spillway or sporadic rainfall are optimistic.
It’s globalization. Jobs are leaving the U.S. and other advanced nations and settling in poorer countries where they can be performed at much lower costs. The result is a redistribution of wealth. The general standard of living rises where the new jobs land. And, of course, the standard of living has to generally go down in the land where those old jobs left.
There are exceptions. Since the new jobs in different countries create greater profit margins for the companies that take advantage of the lower wages, the people who run those companies and the investors who own their stock make more money. The small number of truly rich get richer while workers make less. It is the proliferation of income inequality. It is the stick on the shoreline that proves what is happening.
There have been many predictions about technology causing chaos in the world, but most are founded in horror stories about robots and anarchy fueled by artificial intelligence unleashed on its creators. Few thought it would come through a massive redistribution of wealth not effected through devious plotting of a mad scientist.
While it may be boring to think that the American way of life, the slow decline of the middle class, and the huge accumulation of wealth in the hands of those already financially secure is the natural result of efficiency and easy communication facilitated by the internet and computer chips, it would be a mistake to think the change is destined to be benign.
The first noticeable tremor was Brexit. The latest is Donald Trump. The problem is neither; they are only symptoms of deep unrest that do not dissipate after elections.
The reaction to feelings that the waters are poised to turn from seeping through a hole in the dike to a rush through a complete breach is to seal the borders, bring jobs back inside the walls, keep foreigners out, and tax the hell out of goods and services originating in foreign places trying to find space on our shelves.
It’s a futile attempt to turn back the clock to better times. If we bring manufacturing jobs back home, what we make will be too expensive to sell. If we make it impossible for cheaper goods made in China to come into the U.S., we eliminate competition and end up with inferior goods at higher prices. Fighting the natural laws of economics is guaranteed to produce unfavorable results.
The truth is that nobody can hold back globalization without utter destruction of technology and a complete resetting of progress. Our greatest fear should be that this will occur through the decimating power of world war, in the manifestation of the only means mankind has proven to be comfortable with in times where fear of helplessness compounded by the feeling of desperation takes hold. I would not call you crazy if you thought this scenario is starting to play out in the world today as evidenced by discord in major elections worldwide, including ours culminating next week.
It may be too much to hope that developed nations of the world come to humble acceptance of the inevitability of the results of the globalization that is in motion and cannot be held back permanently through any policy enacted by man. Cooperation is the only way to ensure the least painful settling of the planet. Unfortunately, the developed nations, with the most to lose, possess the greatest military might to futilely unleash against unalterable destiny, and poor nations, with the most to gain, possess nothing and, thus, have nothing to lose.
Roger Marolt worries about an inevitable loss being handled by a hopelessly arrogant man. Email at Roger@maroltllp.com.
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