Forcing Some to Make Others" Jobs Secure

If you wish to come up with examples of support for vile policies by government, all you need to do is keep your eyes on the letters and Op Ed pages of The New York Times. The latest of these beauties appeared in The Magazine section, March 7, 2004, where the writer proceeds as follows:

"But not all jobs are created equal. Working in a unionized factory with good pay, affordable health care and a pension is not the same as giving facials for $7 an hour without benefits or job security. Sure, manicurists and others should be counted in national job figures. But we should also be clear that the jobs created in these areas generally don't pay enough or provide the kind of benefits needed to raise a family. The debate about manufacturing jobs lost isn't just about numbers; it's about quality too."

OK, so what follows from this? Only that it would be nice if people had better jobs than not so good ones. This didn't really need airing in The Times'-anyone over 5 years of age knows it. Unless, of course, the writer, who was taking issue with an explanation of what outsourcing jobs to other countries does, had in mind to give support to protectionism or reversing free trade policies'-I mean the genuine ones that make it possible for people across the globe to compete with one another for the patronage of various consumers. That conclusion, of course, doesn't follow from the letter writer's laments.

Fact is that America is no longer isolated from competition, just as no region in America has for long been isolated from some other. Previous outsourcing went from one state to another, one city to the other and so forth, usually based, in part, on where one could find more competitive labor and location prices. This is still going on, just in case someone is eager to make a case for domestic protectionist policies.

But what is actually involved in protectionism? It forces costumers to buy at a higher price than they could without it. Thus governments create temporary job security for some people'-who are unwilling to work for less or move somewhere else or retrain'-by forcing costumers, ultimately, to forego shopping, by barring trade. This is literally making involuntary servants of the customers, partial slaves to people who want to keep their jobs regardless of what the customer wants.

It is hard to imagine a more vicious idea afoot today. People worry about child labor, as if that violated basic human rights, which it doesn't unless forced upon families and children by the state. What is far more insidious is to secure people's jobs not because they have something better and less expensive to offer to buyers of goods and services but because they have managed to enlist the military and police powers of government to bar competitors from being able to compete. Talk about humanitarianism!

In the past, a few countries had been something of a job heaven because others were tyrannies and didn't permit business to flourish in their midst. Now this is slowly coming to an end and the entire world community is entering the same marketplace. But that means there will be new competitors, ones who can bid lower than others in the previously privileged countries, those who managed'-or got their unions'-to secure for them good wages and benefits. Once the job market is widened, there will be newcomers who will outbid the existing group of workers. That is what competition means, and any effort to keep the newcomers out is vile, comparable to how the Mafia does 'business,' not how free men and women are supposed to.

Of course, there are various factors aside from labor market expansion that figures in all this, some of them pretty nasty to the existing labor force-'such as extortionist taxation and regulation that makes it impossible for businesses to keep wages high while still managing to remain competitive. But that is clearly not the concern of the letter writers in The Times (and there were several of those with the same idea), nor of most other champions of protectionism.

Now and then, of course, one finds support for the free competition idea in this land, although not usually in mainstream forums. Just to illustrate, here is an e-mail post I recently received that gives one a bit of hope:

"Your explanation as to the "why" of losing certain types of jobs is one of the BEST that I have encountered. It seems to me that the example you used in regard to trash handlers is not only down to earth and if anyone doesn't have an better understanding of the issue after reading your piece he/she just doesn't want to understand the dynamics involved. Thanks for your contribution. I plan to save a copy to share with those who didn't have the opportunity to read your article. Thanks."

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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.