"But Americans Aren"t Getting the New Jobs"

For me the hate-filled outcry that jobs are leaving the country-'however convoluted that concept really is'-has always called to mind the fact that many who voice it are also supposed to be humanitarians. I have in mind the likes of Ralph Nader and Dick Gephardt, champions of the downtrodden, enemies of big corporations, you name it. Those on the Left, at least, who worry about jobs are ideologically committed to liberating the workers of the world, not the workers of Detroit or Fresno, USA.

And, indeed, if one is concerned about lack of jobs, it makes little sense to decry that condition only for Americans. Why are Americans so special that they, but people around the globe do not, deserve jobs?

Fact is, the more jobs that get to be exported, the better off the world is becoming, which also means fewer people will wish to come here to find jobs, which has been the routine for about two centuries and which has upset some folks, mostly with the same mindset as the ones who fret about the loss of jobs. Too many immigrants are flooding our shores! Too many aliens are coming here! So, OK, if you don't like this, making work available abroad should delight you.

There is also something economically amiss with thinking of the creation of jobs abroad as some kind of zero-sum game-'as if the folks abroad never bought anything that is made by the folks here. We know that the bulk of the world goes to American movies, for example, buys music made by Americans, buys American made or assembled cars, etc., and so forth.

In fact, the very idea of lining up all the American-made stuff on one side and the foreign-made stuff on the other has become impossible because nearly everything is composed of a bunch of parts that are made all over the place, with no way to tell anymore where and who made them. It is difficult to imagine people going to Wal-Mart or Macy's or any other shop to pick up socks, TVs, PCs, shirts, blouses or gloves, and making sure that these were made at home.

And if they were made 'at home,' suppose they were made in another state-'would the customers then be traitors to their own states, counties or cities for buying the stuff not made where they live? Oh, my God, what nonsense! If there is a sphere of human life that's in principle truly without borders, it's commerce. And that has been true of not just centuries but over nearly all of human history. Commerce has, indeed, been mostly responsible for much of the peaceful exploration of the globe, for seeking out new regions where to buy and sell stuff. Very different from conquest!

Even just the thought of trying to restrict the benefits of commerce to any area of it whatsoever galls, since no one can tell what exactly would need to be done-'the only wasteful job-creation that would entail is more police and military, who would engage in an utterly futile, hopeless effort to keep jobs local.

Often I am eager to seek out the line of reasoning that might have led folks to reach conclusions other than those I reach about things, because I might, miracle of miracles, be wrong and, in any case, I do like to learn of honest differences in viewpoints. But this line of thinking'-America first in jobs'-disgusts me to no end, considering, especially, that this country perhaps more than any other is filled with people who or whose ancestors were anything but Americans not all that long ago. I find it difficult to fathom, in any kind of dispassionate, charitable way, that thoughtful Americans could think along such lines, begrudging foreigners their chance at a decent life. This kind of 'If they get a job, we must lose a job' thinking is so Neanderthal, so out to lunch, especially in this era of modern economic theory-'starting not even with Adam Smith but with many before him who knew well and good that in trade, all the parties involved are winners'-that my little hope that the world might advance a step or two toward reason and peace and justice is nearly shattered, and I am very tempted to turn into a misanthrope. Problem with that is that what such absence of reason, peace and justice hurts most is millions and millions of human beings, the very ones who often do such thick headed non-thinking.

Alas, I suppose one needs to just push on and rebuff this stuff day in and out.

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Tibor R. Machan's picture
Columns on STR: 70

Tibor Machan is a professor of business ethics and Western Civilization at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and recent author of Neither Left Nor Right: Selected Columns (Hoover Institution Press, 2004).  He is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.