|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Standing resolutely against any consideration of "human capital" in trade agreements is an extremely influential group of American pundits, led by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, author of the best-selling book The World Is Flat. Friedman strongly opposes the notion that the workers of the world possess any economic "entitlements," arguing that prosperity will be generated through governmental deregulation, higher levels of education, and the free flow of technological advances in the hands of unrestricted corporations.
Friedman reserves special venom for "The Coalition to Keep Poor People Poor." This is the term he uses for labor and environmental activists who claim to seek higher wages and better conditions for Third World workers, but whose real agenda, he divulges, is actually protecting unionized jobs in the U.S. None of Friedman's anger is directed at the corporations responsible for miserable wages and living conditions.
Instead of Friedman's "flat world," we are witnessing Himalayan levels of inequality. Internationally, the gap between the world's richest and poorest one-fifths has increased from 30-1 in 1960 to 78-1. The world's three richest individuals possess more wealth than the combined Gross Domestic Product of the poorest 48 nations.
In the U.S., inequality is reaching levels not seen since the 1920s. To cite just one striking measure: the richest 1% — about 300,000 people — earn 16.2% of all income, more than the 150 million who make up the bottom 40%, according to various news reports. Those fortunate few earning over $4.5 million — the richest 1/10 of 1% — earn 6.9% of annual income.
Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the impact of globalization — a.k.a. outsourcing — on the U.S. economy is the prospect that what we've seen so far is only the beginning.
Princeton economist Alan Blinder, a self-described "free trader down to his toes," has estimated that up to 42 million highly technical U.S. jobs — ranging from computer programmers to accountants to economists — are "highly off-shorable" (Wall Street Journal, 3/28/07).
Blinder bases his projections on a detailed analysis of 817 job classifications. He predicts this next wave of job shifts will go far beyond relatively low-skill jobs like those in "call centers" used by insurance and credit-card companies, and reach even people with Ph.Ds.
Favored sites will likely be low-wage nations with large numbers of well-educated people, like China, India and countries in Eastern Europe. U.S.-based corporations that relocate professional jobs overseas will thus be able to rely on the public expenditures for higher education made by other nations, even as they fight to lower their taxes in the U.S. and thus undermine higher education here.