Putting ‘economic globalization’ in context

As someone who is about to reach the half-century mark in life, it gives me time to pause and reflect on all the different changes I have seen through the “ages.” When I was a kid, grownup talk made a big deal about in what “age” we were currently living. I have lived through the Computer Age, Jet Age, Space Age, Transistor Age, Nuclear Age (power), Transplant Age, Internet Age and now, the Human Genome Age. Sometimes that grownup talk was about “the bomb” and how there were ten Chinamen for every American and how the “Red” Chinese promised to take over our country without firing a shot.

As an adult, I watched President George H. Bush grant “Most Favored Trading Nation” status to China. I watched President Bill Clinton sign NAFTA into law less than four years later. I listened to the evening news and heard the quarterly reports of our trade deficit growing ever larger as more goods came into our country as dollars left. Next came the report that we are no longer the wealthiest nation in the world but rank fourth behind Saudi Arabia, Japan and Germany (leading trading partners who prosper off us).

In the last 10 years, we have heard how China is guilty of illegal “dumping” of goods on the American market. Some of the most notable have been textiles, steel and, most recently, furniture. Dumping constitutes the intentional selling of goods below market value with the intent of eliminating the competition. It is illegal in this country as well as others.

Three years ago, a friend in engineering recommended to his Chicagoland company that they not outsource needed furniture components to Mexico to reduce a $75 unit item to $35. Because of his defense of superior American labor, those components are now made in Rockford. The company owners probably have a few less dollars, but as my friend put it: “Let’s say we all give up patriotic loyalty in favor of corporate greed? Following that path to its most logical conclusion, who will be left to buy products in this country if we are all unemployed?”

My grandfather was a machinist in Chicago through “The Great Depression.” He was never unemployed, and he always drove home the point that it was American ingenuity and manufacturing that made this country great, and it is American ingenuity and manufacturing that will keep it No. 1 in the world.

Three weeks ago I read an editorial in Business Week, “Outsourcing: Stop the Hysteria.” The article still advocates globalization and perpetuates the myth, “When production costs are lowered, jobs are created.” That primary lesson of economics operates from the premise that competition is operating on a level playing field, and the dollars of those production costs are going to remain in the market where the production is to occur.

March 16, we went to the polls to vote for those persons we thought fit to run for office in November. When both presidential candidates Bush and Kerry have accepted campaign money from China already, what real choice do displaced American workers have?

It’s time we demand truth in campaigning laws coupled with international trade parity laws. Economists will argue we could touch off a trade war in trying to put a finger in the dike so late after the damage is done. After watching what has happened in Rockford the last 16 years, how much more can we afford to lose?

Mark Schwendau is an instructor of Technology at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill. He can be reached at www.KishwaukeeCollege.edu/cad.

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