Home / General / What Does Dylan Matthews Think The Worst New York Times Article Published in the Last Decade Is?

What Does Dylan Matthews Think The Worst New York Times Article Published in the Last Decade Is?

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Dylan Matthews tweeted a while ago:

So naturally, I clicked. It was Paul Theroux writing about the hypocrisy of corporate campaigns for charity when their own outsourcing policies caused the economic decline of the American working class in the first place. A selection:

Take a Delta town such as Hollandale, Miss. Two years ago, the entire tax base of this community of around 3,500 was (so the now-deceased and much-mourned mayor Melvin Willis told me) less than $300,000. What the town had on hand to spend for police officers, firefighters, public works, outreach, welfare and town hall salaries was roughly the amount of a Bill or Hillary one-night-stand lecture fee; what Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, earns in a couple of days.

When Hollandale’s citizens lost their jobs in the cotton fields to mechanization they found work nearby, in Greenville and elsewhere, in factories that made clothes, bikes, tools and much else — for big brands like Fruit of the Loom and Schwinn.

They are gone now. Across the Mississippi River, Monticello, Ark., and other towns made carpets and furniture while Forrest City produced high-quality TV sets. The people I spoke to in the town of Wynne, known for its footwear, said they’d be happy to make Nikes if they were paid a living wage.

I found towns in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas that looked like towns in Zimbabwe, just as overlooked and beleaguered. It’s globalization, people say. Everyone knows that, everyone moans about it. Big companies have always sought cheaper labor, moving from North to South in the United States, looking for the hungriest, the most desperate, the least organized, the most exploitable. It has been an American story. What had begun as domestic relocations went global, with such success that many C.E.O.s became self-conscious about their profits and their stupendous salaries.

To me, globalization is the search for a new plantation, and cheaper labor; globalization means that, by outsourcing, it is possible to impoverish an American community to the point where it is indistinguishable from a hard-up town in the dusty heartland of a third world country.

This is by and large true. Globalization has led to a global race to the bottom that has deeply undermined the American working class, led to the decline of unions (the only collective voice that American workers have ever had in politics) and their replacement in the political realm by untold amounts of corporate cash leading to equally untold influence over policy. It also also allowed for wealthy capitalists to make tremendous amounts of money by exploiting the poorest of the world’s people, dooming them to death on the job, massive pollution exposure, low wages, sexual assault on the job, violence when they try to organize unions, and the constant, never-ending threat of capital mobility if they organize to improve their lives. Globalization has also led to the creation of a global elite and smaller middle-class that has created real economic benefits for those lucky enough to rise into it, whether in India, China, or the United States. The question to whether we can have one without the other is what people who care about issues of global trade and inequality try to hash out. But the impact of capital mobility upon working-class American communities is pretty much not arguable. Whether the Mississippi communities Theroux describes, the Oregon logging communities without jobs, or old factory towns like Schenectady and Johnstown and Pawtucket and Flint, we can see the impact of globalization on the American landscape, or at least we can if we ever leave the Beltway.

So the basic point should be pretty well accepted. In any case, it’s hardly the abomination Matthews describes. Matthews’ objection is that Theroux wants to doom the poor around the world to poverty for nationalist reasons and thus he is a moral monster or something. First, that’s not true and any cursory reading of Theroux’s own work shows that. The chances that Matthews has ever read anything by Theroux, someone who knows far more about the developing world that Matthews sitting at his Vox desk could ever dream of, seems unlikely, although how I am to know. Second, Theroux makes no such claim. He points out that globalization has decimated working class communities and that the Chinese have benefited. Third, Theroux rightfully calls out the business community for being hypocrites, claiming they care about communities while taking all their jobs away. I guess that doesn’t mean you have reject corporate money to improve decimated communities, but it’s obvious that business, ranging from their strong anti-union positions to the Chamber of Commerce’s attack on the ACA, is opposed to any actual policy that would help working people outside of the dribbling of charity from their own beneficence.

But Matthews has the same kind of neoliberal centrist economic position staked out by his own Vox compadre Matt Yglesias when he talked about it being OK for Bangladeshis to have lower workplace standards and allow over 1100 workers to die at the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013. This is a wholly abstract notion of the world economy developed in an atmosphere of Washington boardrooms, raw data analyzed without historical or anthropological context that ignores the messiness of what happens on the ground, and the elite confidence in their own rightness developed at Ivy League schools and continued through the networks that keeps these people on top. What it is totally disconnected to is how actual workers live, what they want, the real sufferings they deal with, and their own demands in the system of global capitalism. These are questions that receive indifference from Matthews, Yglesias, and the like, who are far more comfortable taking on the mantle of Official Explainer of Data to the American upper-middle class in ways that justify their readers’ current position on the economic scale than they are in articulating just how they see American communities recovering from globalization or how we should support the desires of Bangladeshi textile workers to live a better life.

As far as I can tell, Dylan Matthews is completely indifferent to the suffering of the American working class so long as he can justify it by data that shows that some other people’s lives are improving because of it. And of course, I want the lives of Bangladeshi workers and American workers to both improve. That’s why I wrote a book connecting the two nations and trying to think through ways that we can tame a global economy that decimates communities in both nations. Matthews, Yglesias, and others of their ilk are happy to support better health care policy and the like, and that’s good. But they really struggle to understand how important it is for people to have work and how much of what they don’t like about where this nation is right now–the fear of immigrants, the post-Citizens United political landscape, stagnating incomes, long-term unemployment, etc.–stems in parts larger or smaller from the decline of unions and the undermining of the American working class turned middle class. Without the jobs that Matthews is more than happy to send overseas if the workers unionize, (and really, have either Matthews or Yglesias ever actively written in support of a single labor struggle, even if they support unions in theory? Not that I have ever seen), none of this gets fixed. It certainly doesn’t happen if we just let all the smart people in DC decide what to do, a long-standing mythology held on to with great aplomb by those who could potentially be part of that conversation.

This doesn’t mean that one can’t criticize Theroux’s arguments. It’s really not the best piece one could write on the impact of globalization. He presents the global economy as more of a zero-sum game than it is. His own discussions of the impact of charity in Africa, while not entirely untrue, are certainly cranky and problematic. He’s been criticized before for his recent writings on Africa that blame foreign aid for a lot of the continent’s current problems. Theroux himself doesn’t seem to get or he doesn’t articulate the importance of worker power and unions in American work, not that one per se must address that in a relatively short op-ed. And if you frame all of this as a zero-sum game, then it does become problematic because you open yourself up to Matthews’ response that by bringing the jobs back to America you want the Chinese to be poor (although that’s not really any more morally problematic than Matthews’ own predilections.)

But in the end, Matthews called an article concerned about the poverty of the American working class the worst thing the New York Times has published in maybe a decade. This is the conclusion to Theroux’s supposed abomination.

Some companies have brought manufacturing jobs back to the United States, a move called “reshoring,” but so far this is little more than a gesture. It seems obvious that executives of American companies should invest in the Deep South as they did in China. If this modest proposal seems an outrageous suggestion, to make products for Nike, Apple, Microsoft and others in the South, it is only because the American workers would have to be paid fairly. Perhaps some chief executives won’t end up multibillionaires as a result, but neither will they have to provide charity to lift Americans out of poverty.

Wow, what a moral monster.

Matthews deserves a good bit of pushback on this. I’ll be curious to see if he writes more on it. But it’s not wrong to be concerned about the lack of good jobs in your homeland, nor to document how global trade policies have driven some people into poverty. If attacking such statements as being morally monstrous is by someone who is identified as a smart center-left commenter, we have real problems.

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  • sleepyirv

    It’s something of an iron law: If you have an Archer character as your twitter icon, you’re going to turn out to be an arrogant narcissist.

    • DrDick

      More to the point, if you are posting at Vox, there is a high probability that you are a totally clueless over privileged twit.

    • postmodulator

      Well, not just any Archer character, Matthews picked the hologram-screwing undinist Nazi clone.

      • wjts

        To be Scrupulously Fair, he’s also the character with the coolest van.

        • postmodulator

          The one Malory called “Rolling probable cause?”

          • wjts

            Yes. And let us not forget his role as the architect of Fort Kickass.

      • UserGoogol

        If screwing a hologram of an anime character is wrong I don’t want to be right.

      • Murc

        Hey, if he were a clone of Adolf Hitler, wouldn’t he look like Adolf Hitler?

  • Tyro

    As far as I can tell, Dylan Matthews is completely indifferent to the suffering of the American working class so long as he can justify it by data that shows that some other people’s lives are improving because of it.

    I’ve noticed this pattern as well, where liberals criticize skepticism towards globalization and the elimination of trade barriers by pointing out that it is unfair to act in ways that would help American citizens if it would hypothetically cause a poor person somewhere to miss out on an opportunity to sell to an American… so that somehow saying, “this trade agreement will decimate the American middle class” is considered inappropriate to discuss because hypothetically some other poor person won’t benefit if the agreement doesn’t go through.

    • brad

      And hey, when a Chinese laborer is lured off the farm into near slavery to make toxic products in unsafe conditions at an unregulated factory pumping out pollutants that underemployed Americans have to buy on credit who doesn’t benefit?

    • Linnaeus

      I have also noticed this pattern, and I’ve long suspected that what’s going on is, at least in part, classism being masked with a patina of concern for the global poor.

      • Lee Rudolph

        I’ve long suspected that what’s going on is, at least in part, classism being masked with a patina of concern for the global poor.

        More precisely, perhaps, the non-local poor.

        • Linnaeus

          Yes, that’s better.

        • There are a lot of people who can only care (or pretend to care) about other people at the abstract level. Because real people are just so messy and unruly and needy and you may even be called upon to help them out, rather than stroke your chin and think warm thoughts.

          There are also people who are always looking for a Noble Savage to admire. So you get these weird, near-fetishes for anyone who isn’t a European, provided they’re not wealthy.

          I’m not saying either thing is Matthews’ particular Thing, however.

          • ajp

            Ivan Karamazov was right-To love a man, it’s necessary that he should be hidden, for as soon as he shows his face, love is gone.

            • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoehenheim den Sidste

              Tak for det.

              This remark is the perfect foil to a developing line of conversation in another context.

          • This may be below-the-belt personal, but Matthews began blogging at 14 under the nym “minipundit”. That was in 2004, so you can do the math. From there to Harvard and the Crimson, and from there to Wapo and the Wonkblog, whence Ezra dragged him into the forest of entrepreneuriality. There has probably been no moment in his life when dealing with a non-abstract person would have really worked for him. (I got interested in him when he concocted the really annoying, and I believe false, slatepitchy argument that the States should have lost the Revolutionary War because this would have ended slavery sooner).

            • I actually completely agree with Matthews on the Revolutionary War/slavery argument.

              • Lee Rudolph

                Ah, but what would a colonial loss in the Revolutionary War have meant for the carbon footprint of the Industrial Revolution???

    • xq

      If you believe a trade agreement will help people in poverty outside America and hurt Americans, I don’t see how the help is any more or less hypothetical than the harm.

    • LWA

      If we were truly concerned about the 3rd World workers and American workers both, maybe we should allow them to write the rules under which global trade operates.

      As it is, the lament over the poor- whether American or not- is just phony posturing, if the poor themselves are not consulted or allowed a voice. Its just the same old noblesse oblige, where the affluent decide what help the poor need, ignoring their actual voice.

      • What? Giving working people and their union representatives a seat at the table for trade agreements? Unpossible! No, better to just listen to President Obama when he says that the TPP will be totally better than NAFTA for workers….

    • wengler

      The notion of uplift of foreign poor always seems to discount the fact that ‘free’ trade is terrible for foreign agriculture(the sector that employs a much higher percentage in developing economies) and costs go up as newly made factory workers contact the global economy.

  • Ha hahaha hahaha haa!

    He who works for Vox and bought into the Soylent scam should have a seat.

    • I was going to say that someone who actively doesn’t like food is probably not real likely to have empathy with poor people, but I thought it would be too mean to say in the post itself.

      • Heh.

        “If they have money, they’ll just waste it on food. Eww.”

        (Yes I’ll feel terrible if it turns out he has an eating disorder. But for now – Vox + Soylent = Siddown.)

        • geniecoefficient

          He’s on the autism spectrum. If you’re looking for something extenuating – which is to say, something apart from being a Vox asshole that could explain his distinctive food attitudes – I think that qualifies.

          High-functioning obvs.

          Also, I like Vox. Also also, Dylan has written many times in support of policy solutions to American poverty. Just so you know.

          Edit – FYI he has written for Vox about his autism. I do not know him personally

          • Policy solutions to American poverty are meaningless if they don’t include good paying jobs, the very jobs that Matthews want to be outsourced.

            • geniecoefficient

              Yes, I don’t recall them being the sorts of policy solutions that I – or you – would favor.

            • UserGoogol

              Give a man a job, feed them for as long as they work. Give a man a basic income guarantee, feed them for the rest of their life.

              • Lee Rudolph

                Give a man a basic income guarantee, feed them for the rest of their life.

                Give a man a retirement tontine, sit back and place side bets!

              • Gareth

                As long as the farmers can’t get a basic income guarantee.

            • mark

              Exactly. The one thing some Republicans flirt with understanding on is that a good paying, dignified job is like a million times better than a hand out. Then, of course they draw the exact opposite conclusion. Someone who works and is not being paid enough to even owe income tax is not a freeloader or a taker; they’re being taken from.

              The idea that less regulation, more free trade more “disruptive” innovation makes sense as long as you can put some of the profits into a stronger safety net is appealing to a lot of liberals while taking econ 101 and Yglesias-types seems to have stuck with it. But trying to implement that is a suckers’ game, since the moment workers needs the safety net is the moment they lose meaningful influence on policies and handouts don’t bring that back.

              • Tyro

                The one thing some Republicans flirt with understanding on is that a good paying, dignified job is like a million times better than a hand out. Then, of course they draw the exact opposite conclusion. Someone who works and is not being paid enough to even owe income tax is not a freeloader or a taker; they’re being taken from.

                The small business owning class within the Republican Party really does view their employees as people who do nothing but take money out of their pockets, and they resent them for it while looking down on them for not having their own businesses. The corporate executive at the very least merely sees employees as costs on a balance sheet, so they are an abstraction, but for small business owners, the salaries that come out of their pocket to pay their workers is a personal affront they deal with on a daily basis, and that attitude spills over into the politicians.

              • UserGoogol

                I kind of take the opposite approach: I’m distrustful of labor-theory-of-value-style interpretations of economic justice in part because the right has such a fondness for the idea of hard work and people keeping what they earn. Taking a problematic idea and turning it around so it benefits workers instead of capitalists doesn’t remove its flaws, it just removes one flaw.

                • Pat

                  The whole point of being a capitalist is that you personally and directly extract cash from work done by other people. After organizing a group of people and providing them with the materials and equipment (capital) they need to make a product, you take the majority of the value from those products and give them back a tiny amount. That’s what employment is.

                  And, personal peeve of mine, why do they get to call themselves “the right?” Can’t we call them “the wrong?”

                • UserGoogol

                  First to be pedantic, a majority of gross revenue goes towards labor costs, although not a very big majority. (Some of that goes to executives so you could nitpick how much goes to proper proletariat, but it’s not a tiny amount.) More than that, the idea that workers produce wealth just mythologizes an idea of individual creation which just isn’t true. All creation is an inherently collective effort where a wide variety of resources come together to produce an output. Human labor is an important input obviously deserving of compensation, but it’s not so simple as to say workers create the value.

                  Also, because of the seating arrangements of the National Assembly during the French Revolution.

          • CrunchyFrog

            …something apart from being a Vox asshole that could ….

            You very nearly coined the term “Voxhole”.

            • Ahuitzotl

              There are only atheists in Voxholes?

    • postmodulator

      I’ve got a friend with severe digestive issues who describes Soylent as a lifesaver, so…

      • I’m curious why they don’t use an enteral food substitute that’s FDA approved?

        • Bill Murray

          regulations schmegulations, Libertarians rule

        • Jackov

          something about eating the poors

        • postmodulator

          Truthfully, I don’t know why. She’s tried a lot of stuff.

          • JonH

            Ensure? Boost? Other brands that are available cheap in industrial-size packages at Costco?

          • Pat

            When a lot of the things you like to eat make you sick, often you just want the problem to go away. It’s a crappy time of life, so to speak.

  • The newspaper regularly publishes Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, Ross Douthat and Maureen Dowd, and *that* is the worst thing they’ve published?

    • Manny Kant

      Yes, this is exactly what I was going to post. Dylan Matthews is the worst.

      • Linnaeus

        And just after I was defending him on his Vox piece about equality of opportunity, he goes and does this.

        • I hated that piece too and meant to say more about it. Maybe I still will.

          • Barry Freed

            Let the great LGM-Vox blog wars commence!

            • Unlikely. After Yglesias had to apologize about Bangladesh, he never linked to LGM again. I imagine Matthews won’t respond either; he certainly won’t on Twitter.

              • Ahenobarbus

                They don’t even have comments at Vox. They want to pick and choose when they can engage with others.

                • If people challenge you, how can you be the Great Explainer?

                • matt w

                  As someone who regularly comments at a Vox Media-owned sports blog, and who’s seen the way they go to shit when we don’t scrupulously keep them off politics, it’s absolutely fine by me that Vox itself doesn’t have comments.

                  (They also go to shit whenever anything related to gender comes up.)

                • JonH

                  “Vox, where you’ll notice a distinct paucity of voxes”

                • Lee Rudolph

                  What does the Vox say?

          • LWA

            I liked the inequality piece, but probably drew different conclusions from it than others did. Especially given Mathews posture towards the times article.

            • Jackov

              Think of the au pairs

  • sharonT

    All Dylan’s tweet shows me is that he has almost no contact with working-class of poor people beyond asking for fries with his quarter pounder.

    This issue is such a huge blind spot for these people. I’ve always thought that the Dylan’s of this world think that Americans who enter the workforce with only a high school diploma deserve low-wage jobs because well paying work is the birthright of college educated America.

    • Linnaeus

      I’ve always thought that the Dylan’s of this world think that Americans who enter the workforce with only a high school diploma deserve low-wage jobs because well paying work is the birthright of college educated America.

      Oddly enough, this was the kind of thing that Mathews seemed to be arguing against in his piece critiquing equality of opportunity as a policy framework.

      But you do touch on something that I’ve noticed as well, and I think one manifestation of that is the increasing emphasis on education as the solution to the problems of poverty and economic inequality. It’s appealing because there’s some truth to it – education is a good thing and it does help one’s chances in life. The problem is that education is being sold as a silver bullet solution, which conveniently works as a justification for not addressing other systemic factors in policymaking and leaving behind those who still struggle because it’s all their fault and there’s nothing to be done about it.

      • I agree with this. OTOH the choice of Good Will Hunting as an example *suggests* this isn’t quite the argument Baker really intended to make. Need to think about this more.

      • Murc

        I sort of view the people who view education as a silver bullet policy as being a product of being caught in a rock and a hard place in between, mmm, I’d say the nineties to now.

        This isn’t going to be true for everyone, but adopting that position is sometimes, I think, a fear response. If you’re someone who thinks something absolutely should be done for the have-nots in society, but look at either the impossibility of or the scariness of actual “meaty” policy prescriptions that would address that, you’ll seize on education like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver, because it lets you navigate between the Scylla of “become a conservative, never have to worry about morality again” and the Charybdis of “solutions that look to your white-bread middle-class eyes like communism, stuff that could lead to tumbrels and crowds singing Ah! Ca ira! in the streets and then a fascist backlash.”

        If you have enough of a sense of empathy to not be able to simply embrace conservatism (I see this a lot; people who you can tell SUPER RESENT needing to care about the poor and the brown but just can’t become sociopaths because they have functioning empathy centers) then “education! EDUCATION!” is a great drumbeat to follow.

        • Pat

          Plus, now that the price has been jacked up so high, urging lots of people to get education really benefits the rent-taking financiers in the system.

      • Jackov

        Proffering a system that currently reinforces economic inequality as the solution for economic inequality certainly serves the interests of the ‘meritocratic’ elite.

    • JonH

      “All Dylan’s tweet shows me is that he has almost no contact with working-class of poor people beyond asking for fries with his quarter pounder.”

      It’s almost like being on the autism spectrum is not a very good characteristic if you’re going to be writing about humans. Because you probably won’t have much exposure to humans, compared to more socially adept individuals.

      • Pat

        You know, I disagree. People on the spectrum have unique perspectives that can provide a real contribution.

        Some of them can be just damned hard to work with, is all.

      • Origami Isopod

        “Asshole” is not on the spectrum. There are plenty of people with autism who are out there interacting with others and sometimes doing an excellent job of it. There are also plenty of neurotypical people with no damn empathy whatsoever.

  • Ronan

    The pseudo sophistication of vox, which rarely advances beyond Econ 101 + rhetorical data science, really grates at times. It really doesnt allow for any complexity whatsoever.

    I hope it’s not a little much to re up this article from a previous thread on, in part , 19th century Pennsylvania labour conflict, as its pretty good (IMO) and relevant

    http://www.drb.ie/essays/'them-poor-irish-lads'-in-pennsylvania

    • Linnaeus

      The pseudo sophistication of vox, which rarely advances beyond Econ 101 + rhetorical data science, really grates at times.

      You know, that’s really a good way of putting it. I do like what Vox puts out from time to time, but it seems to me that they rely quite heavily on the user experience aspects of their website to the detriment of their content.

      • Lee Rudolph

        What (if I may ask) is the science of rhetorical data?

        • Linnaeus

          I took that to mean data as rhetoric, but that could be a misinterpretation on my part.

    • Yes, and that’s a good way of putting it. (Which is exactly what the commenter before me said, okay.)

  • Templar

    Although his legacy is problematic, Ralph Nader summed it up well: “A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.”

  • efgoldman

    Just out of curiosity, was the Theroux piece a book excerpt? Because the Globe last Sunday reviewed a book with a very similar theme.

    • Not an excerpt, but he has a new book out on traveling around the South.

  • Gareth

    Theroux says himself that the factories only got built in the South because of the internal equivalent of outsourcing. If there were strong protections for local jobs throughout the US, wouldn’t the factories have stayed in the North? In that case the Southerners would have just kept picking cotton.

    • Actually, Southeners would have moved to the North for jobs, which is actually was happened in the 1910s-40s, until the government decided to spread the factory base around the nation more.

      • Gareth

        OK, fair point. It certainly makes sense to focus on the well-being of the people rather than the places. But that’s not what Theroux is doing in the article. He’s going to places and seeing that they’ve gotten much worse, not tracing every Southerner and finding out if they moved North and got a better job. I suspect there’s been massive outmigration of young people from the places he mentioned. So again, wouldn’t the specific places be just as bad if the factories stayed in the North, and people left to work in them?

        • Lee Rudolph

          So again, wouldn’t the specific places be just as bad if the factories stayed in the North, and people left to work in them?

          Well, they might be better to the extent that (some of) the people that left were sending (some of) their income home; so that the specific places in the South would at least have more money in the hands of (some of) the poor people who stayed.

          • Gareth

            That does work in a lot of cultures, but I’m not sure that remittances are that common in the US. If you’re a young person who’s moved from the South to the North, how likely are you to send money back to your parents?

            • Lee Rudolph

              Here’s a well-aged anecdote. My wife’s mother grew up in Kentucky, but managed to get to New York City (c. 1920) in her mid 20s, where she got work in magazine publishing (ending up as managing editor of McCalls). For the rest of her life (another 70 years or so) she sent money back to her parents (until they died) and her four younger siblings.

              So it happens. How likely it is (particularly, here and now) I have no idea, but I bet Loomis knows.

              • Gareth

                Fair enough. I suppose I’m generalising from my own parents, and they’re from a different culture.

      • efgoldman

        until the government decided to spread the factory base around the nation more.

        I’m curious, other than state right-to-work (misnomer) laws and Southern anti-unionism in general, what did the government decide to do?

        • The government decided to spread military bases and military production around the nation during World War II, somewhat for defense reasons and somewhat as part of government planning to raise poor areas out of poverty. That of course continued after World War II with the military-industrial complex.

        • For a very good precis on what the US did after WWII, check out the first section of Margaret Pugh O’Mara’s Cities of Knowledge on how the Federal government’s policy of “industrial dispersion” pushed industry into the South.

          If you want a more extensive treatment, Bruce Schulman’s From Cotton Belt to Sunbelt is the classic.

          • Linnaeus

            In other words an….industrial policy!

    • JonH

      “If there were strong protections for local jobs throughout the US, wouldn’t the factories have stayed in the North?”

      There could still be companies expanding production by building new factories in the south, without closing the factories in the north. And new businesses might elect to manufacture in the south. That’d probably slow down job growth in the south, but there’d still be growth.

      • Gareth

        Sure, but since we’re assuming factories can’t compete on the basis of low wages, what’s the incentive to build factories in the South?

  • Bruce Vail

    It’s a strange argument that we should impoverish the U.S. working class for the sake of creating jobs in poorer nations.

    Of course this same argument is at the root of TPP and some of the other “free trade” agreements that seem so popular in Washington.

    The logical extension of this is that we convert the U.S. economy to Third World-style economy with all the wealth concentrated in a tiny clique at the top and 90 percent or more of the population living in poverty.

    • Right–none of those who make this argument seem willing to articulate the long-term impact on the American working and middle classes. Once the creative economy and tech economy will save America arguments were shown to be fantasies, they just don’t really bother trying to answer that question at all.

      • Didn’t there used to be an argument that industrialization just comes and goes within a couple of generations, nothing you can do, all we could do was prepare the working class for office jobs (which somehow would still be prevalent), and welfare for the left behind remnants? I’m not sure, because I may have misread, and given how little sense it makes (Germany certainly hasn’t deindustrialized, and the US hasn’t completely either, for that matter) presumably the argument was actually something different from what I thought it was at the time.

        • Linnaeus

          I think you remember it correctly. Daniel Bell did a lot of this kind of thing in the 1960s and 70s.

          • Yeah, all I can remember saying this, though, is Daniel Bell. And I can’t remember what kind of article or essay it was he said it in (and the town library no longer has a copy).

            • Linnaeus

              There’s also his book, The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society.

              • Linnaeus

                Come to think of it, post-industrialism was also really prevalent in Alvin Toffler’s books, especially The Third Wave.

              • Thinking about it now, though, why would someone like Bell, with a background in Marxism, be talking about deindustrialization, instead of, say, a race to the bottom?

                • Linnaeus

                  Good question. I can’t say that I know Bell’s work thoroughly, but his idea of post-industrialism goes along with his “end of ideology” argument, and in the 1950s, there were a number of commentators on both the right and left who thought that the totalizing ideologies of the 19th century had pretty much been played out and that what remained would be a society managed by technocratic experts. A post-industrial economy would be just the milieu for such a managerial class to arise.

        • Ronan

          Germany is deindustrialising aswell though, just at a slower rate. I don’t really know about the long term effects of all of this, but This is a quite interesting article comparing the political economy of the service economies across the west

          http://www.renewal.org.uk/articles/the-political-economy-of-the-service-transition/

          • Yeah, except my memory of the way this was presented, once upon a time–it was before my time, really, and definitely before Yglesias’–was that this was happening RIGHT NOW or at most within a generation, that is, in your children’s lifetimes (or, if you’re young enough, easily near the beginning of your adult career). Or: we’re losing market share in automobiles to Japan because the global market has already moved on, so workers in the 1960s and 1970s asking for more are living in a dream world.

            • Lee Rudolph

              so workers […] asking for more are living in a dream world.

              Capital asking for more, however, is making a dream world!

              • Well, the whole point of capitalism is that capital doesn’t ask for more. Capital is the entity that gets asked for more.

              • Hogan

                I’ve had that dream. I usually wake up screaming.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          In Kyrgyzstan after the collapse of the USSR and in Ghana after the 1966 coup deindustrialization was a deliberate policy pursued by the government.

          • postmodulator

            Absent you telling us what the consequences of that were, this is a somewhat less than useful piece of information.

          • wengler

            I hear Pol Pot also had interesting ideas about deindustrialization. But like your two references they have nothing to do with the subject at hand.

      • DrDick

        Nor do any of them suggest that perhaps the MOTU might be imposed upon to fully recompense all their workers fairly, based on their contribution to the value of the products, rather than hoarding it all for themselves. It is beggaring everyone for their own greedy benefit.

    • Ronan

      It’s not really that strange an argument to say that global inequality is neither morally justifiable or sustainable , and that the working (and I think middle) class in the west probably have divergent interests from those in developing countries, and that any solution to global poverty might mean a decrease in living standards in the rich world.
      I don’t know how you resolve this Dilemma , tbh

      • Linnaeus

        that any solution to global poverty might mean a decrease in living standards in the rich world.

        Assuming for arugment’s sake that this is true (and it may very well be), we now have the question of who should bear the burden of that in the rich world. One could envision policies that spread this burden out and perhaps mitigate the worst effects. But that never seems to get a serious hearing – the same folks who argue that such decline is not only likely, but maybe even necessary, don’t have much to say beyond that.

        • Ronan

          Oh Yeah, I agree with you. The other problem is that the same process (seems to, any way) undercuts the political power of the working and middle class ,and so makes the policies that could ease this transition less likely (at least in most cases)
          I’m starting to think a universal basic income is the only real game in town , as unrealistic as it may be at this moment

          • Ronan

            Theoretically on the ubi, I haven’t read enough on the practicalities to have an informed opinion on that aspect (im reading Martin fords “rise of the robots” at the minute, which is convincingly predicting a pretty dramatic (negative) change in the labour market due to technological developments , so the question of globalisation might turn out to be not that relevant in the long run )

        • xq

          But that never seems to get a serious hearing – the same folks who argue that such decline is not only likely, but maybe even necessary, don’t have much to say beyond that.

          I don’t think this is true of the Vox writers in particular. Their solution is direct downwards wealth transfer.

          • That is, of course, no solution at all by itself, in part because of the American antipathy for welfare.

            Good jobs is the only solution. Everything else helps around the edges. But without the jobs, forget about it.

            • xq

              That is, of course, no solution at all by itself, in part because of the American antipathy for welfare.

              Do you think your preferred solutions are more attainable?

              • Do I think the nation could enact a serious jobs program?

                Yes, of course.

                Do I think it will? No. But I’m hardly calling for full communism here.

                • xq

                  I agree. That’s the best solution. And I also agree that it’s more politically viable than a sufficiently large UBI. And it doesn’t require reversing globalization or losing any of its benefits.

                • Brett

                  A temporary jobs program, maybe, but you’ll never get support for an indefinite one. Polling for a guaranteed job was around 40-ish% the last time I checked, and that was for a generic poll question – any real program would poll lower.

                • Well, I’m not necessarily saying that has to be a direct government jobs program, although I think that should be part of it. But the government can do a LOT to incentivize employers to hire, and to hire in certain places. Right now, the emphasis among policymakers is about protecting corporate profits, crafting trade deals for more profit, and largely allowing employers to craft economic policy. That can change. And it should.

                • xq

                  Job guarantee polls fine. 47-41 in this poll. https://today.yougov.com/news/2014/01/09/poll-results-guaranteed-jobs-and-basic-income/

                  We’re not getting it any time soon, but it’s what we should be fighting for.

                • Pat

                  Erik, the best way to get what you want is to hike taxes on the rich, and then allow research investment and the creation of good jobs to be a tax haven.

                  That’s one of the ways Clinton drove the tech boom. The rich hate paying taxes, and when taxes are high the rich use tax havens to avoid them.

              • DrDick

                government jobs program, although I think that should be part of it. But the government can do a LOT to incentivize employers to hire, and to hire in certain places. Right now, the emphasis among policymakers is about protecting corporate profits

                Several things they could do relatively quickly is to establish a minimum wage linked to an actual living wage and limit the deductability of executive compensation to no more than 20 times the compensation of the lowest paid employee. They could also close the tax loopholes that allow corporations to offshore profits and impose tax penalties for US based corporations which offshore production.

          • Linnaeus

            A fair point, though an exception from what I’ve seen generally. YMMV.

      • LWA

        I don’t even yield to the idea that there is some Dilemma.

        I don’t even yield the idea that global trade agreements are anything about “free” trade.

        Trade agreements are about making the world’s boundaries into a system of chutes and ladders- to this interest, borders are erased, and the law applies worldwide; to that interest, borders are raised and make ironclad.

        Somehow I am typing this on a keyboard made in China from parts sourced from a dozen different nations; the end result of dozens of contracts and property rights regimes, whereby the keyboard effortlessly moved from raw materials to consumer product here in California.
        It happened because of a concerted collaboration of corporations make the borders transparent and effortless.

        Labor, meanwhile, is constrained and locked in place- it would be impossible for me to erect a seamless worker protection regime with my counterpart in China.

        This is many things, but it is NOT “free trade”.

        There isn’t anything preventing a global collaboration of workers and consumers to apportion power other than our choosing it.

        • Ronan

          The problem here at times is people tend to ignore what the majority actually wants. This happened in respect of Greece, it seems to happen with the preferences of the black community in the US, and it’s the case on trade

          http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/06/23/3-asia-in-focus/

          A more sophisticated analysis would row back a bit from the “elite capitalist ” rhetoric and try better understand these preferences

        • Ronan

          Also your rhetoric about free trade is tangential , I never used the term

      • wengler

        It might be a vexing question, but the solution is not ‘let the capitalist elite of the first world set first-world labor against third-world labor.’

    • Sly

      It’s puerile whataboutism, designed not to highlight a specific wrong that needs to be addressed, but telling someone with conflicting political goals that they need to shut up about the specific wrongs that they want to see addressed.

      A person who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about poor people in their own country can hardly be expected to care about poor people on the other side of the planet; people who they don’t know even in an abstract sense. It’s the equivalent of an American antifeminist troll telling an American feminist that they need to do more about the plight of women in Saudi Arabia instead of protesting the wage gap or sexual assault in America. The “Dear Muslima” of globalization.

      • Barry Freed

        Nailed it.

      • Pat

        Yep, that just about covers it.

    • It’s a strange and essentially futile argument because it’s really misdirection. The folks who make these arguments are, whether they acknowledge it or not, carrying water for the idea of capital as an unaccountable entity and force without any pretense of national loyalty or responsibility.
      The textile industry in the South wasn’t gutted so Mexican workers could be uplifted – those Mexican workers were left in the lurch when the textile industry shifted to China, then Viet Nam, Cambodia and Bangladesh. It’s a race to the bottom, a race to treat human beings as nothing more than an industrial input. In Africa they strip the land of resources, in Asia those resources are people – oil, minerals, people, makes no difference.
      Regardless of how they attempt to frame this idea of unresponsive, unattached, and unaccountable capital in sophisticated modern economics it is little more than worshiping at the Church of Smith and Ricardo in an age and world that is far different than anything they could have managed.

  • drwormphd

    Dylan Matthews seems to have learned ‘utilitarianism’ in Philosophy 101 and chose it as a guiding principle for everything, even though his understanding of the concept doesn’t seem to have developed beyond that 101 class. He also wrote this:

    http://www.vox.com/2015/7/8/8894019/george-w-bush-pepfar

    In some ways this article is almost a parody of wonkish Big Data liberalism: whatever directly helps the greatest raw number of people is the best policy. Anyone not helped must be left behind.

    Possibly related: Vox seems to be unusually defensive about Carly Fiorina’s tenure at HP. They’re run a couple of pieces that solidly blame her poor performance on the economy. While they’re critical of her otherwise, her business credentials shouldn’t be criticized. This seems part and parcel with their overall pro-globalization, pro-business slant.

    • matt w

      Matthews (and a couple other Voxers, I think) are drawn to the “effective altruism” movement which is big on making this kind of argument–people in developed countries should be directing all their charity toward buying malaria nets, improvements in the lives of the American working-class are ineffective dollar-for-dollar compared to improvements in the lives of the global poor, what you should do with your life is go to work for a hedge fund and donate most of your millions to their approved charities. There’s a nice discussion of that by Amia Srinivasan here, which makes the point that the “effective altruism” movement presupposes the capitalist system as it is, and is absolutely allergic to “address[ing] the deep sources of global misery – international trade and finance, debt, nationalism, imperialism, racial and gender-based subordination, war, environmental degradation, corruption, exploitation of labour – or the forces that ensure its reproduction.” Which seems bang on as a diagnosis of Matthews’s moral calculus.

      (In Matthews’s defense, he’s horrified by the “effective altruists” who think we should be spending all our time worrying about the robot apocalypse.)

      • Brett

        (In Matthews’s defense, he’s horrified by the “effective altruists” who think we should be spending all our time worrying about the robot apocalypse.)

        The Bostrom-pocalypse!

        In other news, give $100 or the world will end in 3150 AD. If you doubt that giving me money will do so, how can you be sure? After all, if there’s even a 0.0001% chance that I’m right, the risks are so huge you have to give me $100 right?

      • Ronan

        Afaik , at least before the 00s, outsourcing was a less important part of deindustrialisaton than technological development . The rhetorical use of “Globalisation” has blinded people toward the elephant in the room, which is developments in it, robotics etc

  • Barry Freed

    This is a great take-down, Erik. Thanks for this. I think I’m gonna tweet it at him because he’s doubling down.

    [Done, curious to see if he blocks me, but would rather see him rethink his position]

  • joe from Lowell

    Poverty alleviation is a fine value.

    But social equality within each society is an important value, too, and Matthews doesn’t show any awareness of that angle.

    • Right.

      Everyone should be for poverty alleviation on a global scale. Even the capitalists will couch their actions in such language, meaningless as it is coming from them.

      Everyone should also be for social equality within societies, but they are not. And they will often sacrifice the latter for the former, especially those whose lives are comfortable either way.

      • Tyro

        I am not sure they are for poverty alleviation either, or at least they will decide that some poor people aren’t “really” poor and thus stop concerning themselves with that group.

        • Jackov

          How can one complain about globalism when the poors have a better standard of living than George V?

    • Really? I thought that was the point of the Good Will Hunting part of the argument. It should have been. If it wasn’t for Baker Matthews, I missed what gave it away. (I don’t think the example worked well, for different reasons, but I thought that part mostly did.) In other words, for Will to aspire above the community where he was born (in fact, for him even to understand another community as being “above”) demolishes the social equality of that community. (It doesn’t work in part because Affleck’s character seems to support him in his aspirations.) Why do you say Baker Matthews doesn’t show any awareness of that?

    • UserGoogol

      No. There is only the global society, everything else is just arbitrary collections of people. Nationalism is bad.

      I mean, what the hell does it even mean to say we should have equality within societies? Should we encourage segregation of the rich from the poor so each community is locally equal?

      In so far as there’s more we can do to help Americans relative to non-Americans, we should do more. But to focus on “our society” as an end in itself is just bigotry.

      • Except that nations do exist and policymakers and especially everyday citizens can act to affect what is happening in their own boundaries much more effectively than they can overseas. In order to have a stable nation-state, the citizens of said nation-state need to have jobs. That’s in the interest of American policymakers. Or it should be.

        • Gareth

          How does that apply to immigration?

          • This is obviously another one of the gotcha lines of inquiry that is quickly sending you down the list of desired commenters, but the answer is that–surprise!–it’s really complicated. But nations can bring in a lot of immigrants for a lot of reasons that help out the nation as a whole. That’s especially true when there is a decent jobs policy in said nation. But immigration also can create jobs on its own, as we’ve seen in communities like Lowell where large immigrant populations have revived cities even without a large industrial base.

            • Gareth

              No gotcha this time, just that this analysis is a lot different from the open borders crowd.

      • nixnutz

        I’m more charitable than some here in my interpretation of Matthews’ piece because this was fundamentally my point of view some years ago. To the extent that it’s changed it’s because I think the global race to the bottom is not great for anyone in the long term–jobs for Bangladeshis is a great thing, the current implementation is not–and because I don’t see any political will in this country to deal with the hollowing out of the job market and the growing inequality. If there could be some kind of guaranteed income I might feel differently but what’s going on now is not sustainable.

  • steeleweed

    Ban stashing monies abroad to avoid taxes. Make all corporate assets and profits available for governmental action. That would include personal assets belonging to upper management and owners.

    Putting a tariff on products of outsourcing would just pass the cost on to consumers. Levying heavy taxes directly on corporations, owners and the decision-makers would make it more profitable to bring the jobs back.

    • Manny Kant

      How do you do that effectively? Don’t you need cooperation from the tax haven governments? Why would they give it?

      • Ronan

        I think there’s the beginning of a turn against tax havens as western countries start having difficulties meeting public expenditure obligations, and so increasing pressure on them to reform. (Which could work with serious cooperation among the worlds must powerful countries)
        Keep an eye out for Gabriel zucmans work on this. He has a new book out (the hidden wealth of nations”, which I haven’t read yet) where he quantifies the amount being hidden in tax havens and (apparently) offers solutions for how to tackle the problem

      • Lee Rudolph

        Why would they give it?

        Because we’ll bomb their hospitals if they don’t!!!

  • Ransom Stoddard

    It’s really amazing how Loomis transmutes 18th century hot takes on trade and technology into 21st century friendly material. You can understand why someone in the 1770s would be skeptical of a silly ivory tower economic dogma like “trade is good” given the lack of empirical evidence one way or the other. But to persist with the same ignorance of the iron clad theoretical case when the empirical evidence—in China, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Ireland, India and so—is so overwhelming is impressive.

    Before I make a “neoliberal centrist” argument for the merits of trade, let me point out a contradiction in Loomis’ views. Loomis (rightly) calls for decreasing the arbitrary barriers that we put on immigration into the U.S., as well as the various ways that conservatives want the government to actively discriminate against undocumented immigrants. But what’s the difference in the desirability of domestic and foreign labor market protectionism? Why does the participation of non-Americans in the tradeable manufactures sector of the global economy pose such an existential threat to the working class as opposed to their participation in the nontradeable service sector? Doesn’t an increase in immigration also make unionization harder due to the decreased scarcity of labor, increased ethnic divisions and the lower average education and training of the immigrants? (Update: I see Loomis responded to this in another comment, describing it as a̶ ̶g̶a̶p̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶h̶o̶l̶e̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶h̶i̶s̶ ̶w̶o̶r̶l̶d̶v̶i̶e̶w̶ an unfair gotcha that moves you down the list of “desired commenters”. Apparently, the difference is “it’s complicated” and “a lot of [unnamed] reasons”. Well, thanks for clearing that up—I really see your point now.)

    But when the old protectionist wine is poured into a new glass, it apparently tastes sweeter. I think we’d all agree that it’d be self evidently absurd to say 1) the lack of barriers to women, African-Americans and non-Anglo immigrants participating in the work force has made Anglo-Saxon men as a whole worse off and 2)even if this were true, it should be an exceptionally important criteria for allowing members of those groups to have jobs. And yet, an equivalent argument about workers in American manufacturing (what percentage of which were white males, btw?) is apparently reasonable.

    Moving on to the crux of the debate, let’s consider one of the greatest howlers in the post: “Globalization has also led to the creation of a global elite and smaller middle-class that has created real economic benefits for those lucky enough to rise into it, whether in India, China, or the United States. “. Say what you will about globalization, but the sheer amount of people who have seen their living standards rise from extreme poverty as a result of it is undeniable. Consider that absolute poverty in China fell from ~65% of the population in 1981 to 15% in 2001. Consider also that the change in India over the same time period was from 55% to 35%. What that means in real terms is that literally more than the *entire population of the United States* has been lifted out of absolute poverty in those two nations alone—which are both still growing at convergence rates. Note that if you plot economic growth against absolute poverty in both nations, you find an almost literal inverse correlation. Also note that per capita GDP in South Korea went from ~$155 U.S.D. (155!) in 1960 to ~$26,000 in 2011 (and it’s close to $39,000 in Seoul). Note that per capita GDP in Singapore went from <$500 per capita in 1960 to ~$53,000 in 2015. Note that per capita GDP in Taiwan increased from ~$2,400 in 1980 to ~$32,000 in 2014. Note that Hong Kong saw growth from <$500 per capita in 1960 to ~$38,000 today.

    Of course, these nations followed a diverse set of policies to achieve economic growth. But it’s entirely reasonable to say that they integrated their economies into a global marketplace and embraced globalization. The countries with the highest concentration of absolute poverty in the world are the ones in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa that are almost entirely closed off from the global economy, with most of the population engaged in low value subsistence farming as opposed to labor intensive manufacturing.

    One might respond that GDP per capita is “just capitalist profits” and doesn’t measure “important metrics of well being.” You’re free to guess whether there are extensive correlations between increased GDP per capita and increased life expectancy, decreased infant mortality, increased caloric intake, increased years of education, increased access to drinkable water, etc. For the broadest overview, take a look at the info graphics at Our World in Data.

    Let me clarify what I’m not saying. I’m not endorsing every claim anyone has ever made about any kind of free markets. I’m not saying that free markets cannot fail: they can only be failed. I’m not saying that workers in countries like China and India don’t live difficult, unpleasant and impoverished lives. And I think most importantly for this discussion, I’m not saying that globalization has not contributed to the absurd rise in inequality in the United States since the late 1970s and that massive increases in taxes, transfers and social insurance programs aren’t entirely desirable. I’m saying that the immense benefits to the poor that capitalism brings through the process of economic development have to be recognized in any discussion of trade. I’m saying that the rise in inequality has not been a result of the middle class and poor getting poorer in the aggregate, but rather getting richer at a glacially slow rate while the top 1% in terms of both income and wealth has gotten richer at an extremely fast pace. And I’m saying that a patchwork of arbitrary protections and subsidies for inefficient U.S. industries to take jobs away from the countries that need economic development the most is terrible policy. The answer to the intra- rich nation inequality of globalization is to redistribute the vast wealth of the top 1%, not to fumble around trying to prevent trade from happening.

    Finally, I’ll say that I feel angry at myself for writing this ridiculously long post, because I actually agree with Loomis about so much in terms of actual policy. An old post he wrote reviewing a book about the rise of movement conservatism was the first post that made me understand what an amazing site LGM is as well. But this kind of “everything would be better if only we wasted the taxpayers’ money indefinitely on handouts to inefficient companies!” thinking is terrible for the liberalism, and undermines the faith people have in actually valuable government investments and redistribution.

    • So…..How do you go into a Mississippi impoverished community or Oakridge, Oregon or Flint, Michigan and say this to them. What are your plans to bring good paying jobs to the people where you live? How do you deal with what you admit are the major problems this all has caused in the U.S.?

      I should say that I am not a protectionist, but that I do believe that governments do have interests in creating jobs for its populace. But I also think that while the rise of globalization has led to some people rising–although it’s funny to me that all the people who praise unfettered free trade and capital mobility never mention Mexico and Central America in their defenses; if it’s so great, why hasn’t Guatemala and Honduras risen out of poverty like China?–we also have to create globalized labor movements and globalized legal systems that workers themselves can access if we are to create a middle-class society around the world instead of a society that benefits a few capitalists and no one else.

      • Brett

        What are your plans to bring good paying jobs to the people where you live?

        You’ve got that backwards. I’d say, “You need to move where the jobs are in the US, or at least send a family member there to earn money and send it back – and we’ll help you make that transition”.

        I understand that’s difficult, but that’s ultimately what needs to happen – they need to go to where the jobs are. And they are out there, especially if the economy as a whole is improving.

        But I also think that while the rise of globalization has led to some people rising–although it’s funny to me that all the people who praise unfettered free trade and capital mobility never mention Mexico and Central America in their defenses; if it’s so great, why hasn’t Guatemala and Honduras risen out of poverty like China?

        In the case of Latin America, you also had instability and ineffectual governments. But in general, it’s the same problem all of Latin America has had in developing in response to globalization: relatively low investment as a percentage of GDP. China and all of the East Asian countries either funneled or are funneling much more back into investment and expansion in their own economies, or drawing heavily upon investment from abroad (Japan and Singapore started on the former, Korea depended heavily on the latter, and China has heavily used both).

        What that means is that they’re not absorbing new technologies and people from the extremely poor parts of their countries as effectively as they could be to drive further growth. For a few years mid-century, some of them did it – Brazil and Mexico had strong growth rates after driving a lot of investment back into their economies, absorbing new technologies, and devaluing their currencies to export abroad.

        • I don’t think it’s right at all to say that workers should have to move around the country for jobs and that they should just abandon Michigan and Ohio for Texas and South Carolina and erase their family histories and their culture, etc., just so they can have a non-union job somewhere else. There are reasons that some industries need to be sited where they are–say natural resources and some food production–but one can place most industries everywhere. The reasons that those companies are in Texas and South Carolina is that they can treat workers like garbage. I’m not sure we should be telling workers that they just should have to go to those places. Rather, I think finding ways for people to have work where they live or at least close to where they live is not only more humanitarian, but entirely doable.

          • Brett

            Rather, I think finding ways for people to have work where they live or at least close to where they live is not only more humanitarian, but entirely doable.

            I don’t. You can float areas for a while with constant public support – see military bases – but sooner or later the broader public is going to ask why you’re spending all this money just so folks in Flint don’t have to move to a more prosperous part of the country*. And let’s not forget that they came to the area in question for jobs in the first place – this is just another change like that. They’ll make new family histories, and of course there’s no reason they can’t try to change where they end up.

            * The only groups that have avoided that are a)Farmers and b)people with a trade so small it slips under the US radar (i.e. the “goat milk subsidy” or the like.

            Of course, they don’t have to commit the full family to it at once. Migrants usually don’t – Mexican immigration to the US usually started with some family members going ahead, getting work, bringing others up there, and then maybe the whole family immigrates eventually.

            • Pat

              One problem with your idea, Brett, is that children living in Flint don’t see the adults working at the jobs in Migrantville. They only see the adults in Flint. So they don’t get the constant mentoring of how to be a person who can find a job, get a job, keep a job, and rise from an entry position into a supervisory position.

              These skills are not inborn. They have to be trained. When they are reinforced by the parents, the friends’ parents, and the school system, then children are more often able to stay in the middle class. But children born in disadvantaged neighborhoods rarely rise out of poverty, even if their parents and/or caretakers are fully employed at good jobs.

          • UserGoogol

            Why? We’re not conservatives; tradition is bad. It stifles us and prevents us from living as progressive autonomous beings. People should not be tied down because of accidents of their own birth.

        • Linnaeus

          You’ve got that backwards. I’d say, “You need to move where the jobs are in the US, or at least send a family member there to earn money and send it back – and we’ll help you make that transition”.

          I think it would depend on the place – some struggling communities probably have enough already established where continued investment might make a real difference, and may end up being a better choice than subsidizing their depopulation. By “we’ll help you make that transition”, I’m guessing you mean something like:

          -Moving assistance
          -Housing assistance (especially in high-cost housing markets)
          -Educational assistance (so people can do the jobs in the places they’re moving to)

          …and so forth. That could be quite a massive expense, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it shouldn’t be done, but you might have the same problem you suggested in your comment downthread wherein the broader public asks why you’re spending all this money to send people around the country, particularly if it’s not clear what they will be doing or if what they do end up doing will be enough for them to live wherever they go.

          • Brett

            I was thinking about going further and targeting specific economically depressed areas for a “temporary job” program in potential destination cities with low unemployment rates and good growth. Basically, guarantee a member of the family (or both adults if they want) a 1-2 year job placement in the destination place, and a bonus if they find a different job once they get there.

            On top of that, you could definitely offer moving and housing assistance.

            That could be quite a massive expense, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it shouldn’t be done, but you might have the same problem you suggested in your comment downthread wherein the broader public asks why you’re spending all this money to send people around the country, particularly if it’s not clear what they will be doing or if what they do end up doing will be enough for them to live wherever they go.

            That’s true, but I still think they’ll be better off in the end having moved – and that will help to sell a potential program like that. I think the main opposition will be local and state governments – the state of Ohio isn’t exactly going to underwrite moving assistance for people to move to California or Florida.

            You can offer them educational assistance, but I’m not impressed with the track record of training programs for the unemployed. Plus, all the education in the world isn’t going to help them if they’re still in an area with 10-15% unemployment (or more).

            • Linnaeus

              I think the main opposition will be local and state governments – the state of Ohio isn’t exactly going to underwrite moving assistance for people to move to California or Florida.

              Probably. It’s hard to ask people to fund a program that they may see as throwing dirt on the graves of their communities.

              I also wouldn’t be too surprised if you saw some opposition in the proposed destination cities as well, especially if they’re dealing with their own problems of growth right now. It may not be enough to make a big difference.

              You can offer them educational assistance, but I’m not impressed with the track record of training programs for the unemployed. Plus, all the education in the world isn’t going to help them if they’re still in an area with 10-15% unemployment (or more).

              True enough. Job training hasn’t really delivered on its promises. I guess the point I was trying to make there was that there had to be some mechanism for actually getting the migrants employed, otherwise they’re just being cast about and left to their own devices when they may not be equipped to deal with that. Then such a program essentially becomes a subsidized pipeline of low wage labor.

          • Jackov

            Relocating a significant portion of the rust belt population so the infrastructure deteriorates beyond repair seems incredibly shortsighted especially if when the plan relies on the Southwest or south Florida absorbing millions of job seekers.

        • Murc

          I’d say, “You need to move where the jobs are in the US, or at least send a family member there to earn money and send it back – and we’ll help you make that transition”.

          You are aware that the economy exists to serve the people participating it, and not the other way around, yes?

          • Origami Isopod

            This, this, this.

            Fuck the capitalist disregard for communities and the idea that people can and should just pick up and move as their corporate masters command.

            • Brett

              I don’t believe communities have a right to demand that the rest of us float them forever as they were just because it’s hard to adjust to a change. If they don’t want to move, fine – I’m not going to require that they follow any program. But they can deal with the consequences of choosing to stay in an economically depressed area then.

          • Brett

            Yes. I pointed out that I think it’s the best outcome for everyone involved in the long run. Most folks don’t like having to move to a new area at first for a job, but they get over it.

            But by all means, propose something different. Do you want to run open-ended public job programs in the economically depressed parts of the country? Maybe endless public subsidies to businesses there so they don’t close shop? How about taking a note from the Japanese and build them a couple of redundant bridges and highways for the construction jobs?

            The difference is that I don’t think that through the Power of Solidarity that you can just ignore economics. Sorry.

            • Lee Rudolph

              How about taking a note from the Japanese and build them a couple of redundant bridges and highways for the construction jobs?

              Or, you know, rebuilding a couple of hundred broken-down bridges, highways, sewage and stormwater systems, and so on, for the construction jobs? Then we could start building new and decent housing for the people who haven’t moved away. And so on. And then, for a fucking change, maintaining that stuff. (Are those “open-ended public job programs”? Fine, then they’re “open-ended public job programs”.)

              • Origami Isopod

                +1

        • xq

          Moving might help somewhat, but you need to deal with the possibility that the value of many people’s labor is too low for them to live a decent life off market wages. There are people with shitty jobs all over the country.

          • Brett

            That’s true, but I think they’ll be relatively better off where they go than where they are now. $10/hr in a place with 3% unemployment is a far sight better than $10/hr in a place with 20% unemployment.

            And like I said in my post, they don’t just have to accept conditions as they are when they arrive at a new place. Previous waves of immigrants to the US certainly didn’t. I’d expect them to lobby for good working conditions and higher pay there as well – and have a better chance of getting it.

      • Ransom Stoddard

        First, I don’t think the government should determine *wages*; wages are (and should be) a price signaling the balance between the current supply and demand for various kinds of labor. I think the government should follow Rawlsian principles and determine *incomes* through taxes and transfers from the wealthy to the poor/lower middle class. So rather than “create well paying jobs”, I’d rather have the government take resources from people who have well paying jobs and give them to people without well paying jobs.

        But beyond just redistribution, there are a lot of active policy steps that I think the government could take instead of protectionism (many of which I think you’d agree with) that would benefit poor communities disproprotionately. Universal early child care, greater regulation of the financial industry, investment in scientific research, more spending on infrastructure, a single payer health insurance system, ending the war on drugs and, though this is somewhat of a moot point now, a larger stimulus earlier in the economic downturn. Also, I think a change in the anti-urban bias that current zoning laws effectively promote, because the lack of sufficient development almost automatically prices the members of the communities you mentioned from being able to move (if they so desire) to the urban areas with the most economic opportunity.

        Regarding “protectionism vs jobs policy”, I think it’s worth noting that saying the government has an obligation to ensure Americans can have jobs is very different from saying it has an obligation to promote Americans having jobs in certain sectors. The latter is opening the door to inefficient rent seeking that sucks resources out of the productive sectors of the economy.

        Regarding globalization in general, the point of my earlier comment and the data therein was to show that it has in fact benefited *a crap ton* of people. And regarding globalized labor movements, in every nation that sees export oriented manufacturing, wages have risen sharply as workers gain the skills and capital that make their labor more valuable. A worker in a Chinese factory or Indian call center today is obviously getting compensated far more than their respective ancestors were for subsistence agriculture.

        Regarding Mexico at least, and probably a lot of other Central/South American nations (e.g. Bolivia and Colombia) one of the main reasons is the awful U.S. war on drugs. Because the main victims of U.S. drug policies are in Mexico, and within the U.S. African-Americans, the politicians who enable them are not held accountable for their consequences. Also, U.S. cold war policies enabling terrorists and dictators on the basis of their “anti-communism” has probably hurt quite a bit. But I think for a lot of Latin American nations the answer is that they’re often run by either revolutionary socialists or right wing crony capitalists who depend on the kind of institutions Acemoglu describes as “extractive”. Rent-seeking, corruption, protectionism, etc. Also geography probably hinders many of them, though this would be alleviated partly through allowing more immigration (compare Puerto Rico with other Caribbean nations). It bears note though that Chile and Costa Rica have seen some mildly impressive results in terms of economic growth (and I’m aware of U.S. support for the terrible Pinochet regime, yes). There’s also some more technical stuff about Kindleberger/Minsky type financial instability that has affected some of these nations, but I’d need to study that more to make a judgement. And these nations, while poorer than western europe, north america and east asia, are still on average wealthier than the Sub-Saharan African and central Asian nations with the majority of absolute poverty.

        By the way, totally unrelated but you’d love the Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong With Banking and What to do About it by Anat Admanti.

        • Lee Rudolph

          [T]he Bankers’ New Clothes: What’s Wrong With Banking and What to do About it

          Let me guess! It’s a cookbook, right?

        • jben

          First, I don’t think the government should determine *wages*; wages are (and should be) a price signaling the balance between the current supply and demand for various kinds of labor

          So, would you repeal the minimum wage?

          • Ransom Stoddard

            A priori I wouldn’t think repealing it’d be a bad idea, but in practice it doesn’t seem to have had (at least major) negative effects and a lot of very good economists support increasing it from its current level, so I assume I’m missing something. I do think that both proponents and detractors overrate the importance of its existence and size.

            But there’s an important additional concern, namely the barriers to immigration. I’d like the U.S. to accept far more political refugees and economic migrants than it currently does, and it seems possible to me that a high minimum wage would prevent the labor market from absorbing a large number of unskilled and uneducated workers. Workers for whom a job at what we would consider low wages would be a material improvement of literally hundreds to thousands of percent over the employment they could hope to find in their home country.

            But yeah, I don’t think a minimum wage, even a fairly high minimum wage, is some horrible job killing ogre for the U.S. under current conditions the way that libertarians and conservatives do.

      • Ransom Stoddard

        Oh, by the way, Paul Krugman (who won his technical economics laurels in trade) calculated that the U.S. trade deficit in manufactures accounted for about 25% (i.e. ~2 percentage points) of the decline in the share of manufacturing of U.S. GDP from 25% in 1970 to 15.9% in 2000. (The main factor apparently being productivity growth). It’s worth noting that back in the 1990s Krugman mostly wrote about globalization from a pro free-trade (I believe the technical term is “hippie punching”) perspective, mocking William Greider and the like.

        • matt w

          It’s worth noting that back in the 1990s Krugman mostly wrote about globalization from a pro free-trade (I believe the technical term is “hippie punching”) perspective,

          And that lately Krugman has been writing about globalization from a perspective that mocks the “rah-rah free trade” line that you’ve been espousing.

          • Ransom Stoddard

            Actually, he’s been mocking people who either think that globalization is extremely important for already rich countries or use it as a prop for avoiding addressing inequality, which I don’t.
            “I am in general a free trader; there is, I’d argue, a tendency on the part of some people with whom I agree on many issues to demonize trade agreements, to make them responsible for evils that have other causes”—Krugman 2015

            • Linnaeus

              I went back and read some of Krugman’s commentaries from the 1990s and his tone was much more acerbic and mocking towards his opponents (especially on trade issues, unsurprisingly) than his columns have been in more recent years. I suspect that’s partly due to the fact that he’s now an éminence grise of sorts at the New York Times and you don’t mix it up with people when writing there the way you would at (then) upstarts like Slate. But I think the more important reason is that the trade regime that Krugman long advocated is pretty much what we have now; trade barriers are the lowest they’ve ever been and can’t get much lower. Deals here and there like the TPP may fail to be approved, but the fundamental framework of global trade is well entrenched now.

              • Manju

                He’s plenty acerbic now. Only now his target is those who deny the benefits of a fiscal stimulus.

                In the past his targets were anti-globalization activists. But, as you note and as Krugman himself has mentioned, this issue has faded.

                However, the two camps were targets for the same reason;

                1. Their beliefs are largely contradicted by the facts.
                2. They are both enemies of the world’s poor.

                Anti-globalization activists are Austrians with a human face.

                • DrDick

                  He has also realized that there have been severe problems with the mechanic of actual “free trade” agreements and has admitted that some of the earlier criticisms were correct. In particular, his criticisms of the proposed TPP have shown that his views have changed as the facts on the ground changed.

                • matt w

                  And he’s acknowledged that NAFTA had very serious costs for large sectors of the US, and that nothing was done to alleviate those costs.

    • Linnaeus

      I’m saying that the immense benefits to the poor that capitalism brings through the process of economic development have to be recognized in any discussion of trade.

      Not only is the argument about the benefits brought up in the general discourse on trade, it pretty much dominates that discourse.

    • matt w

      Loomis (rightly) calls for decreasing the arbitrary barriers that we put on immigration into the U.S., as well as the various ways that conservatives want the government to actively discriminate against undocumented immigrants…. Doesn’t an increase in immigration also make unionization harder due to the decreased scarcity of labor, increased ethnic divisions and the lower average education and training of the immigrants?

      Making it easier to immigrate legally, as Loomis advocates, will make unionization easier, because it is harder for bosses to retaliate against documented immigrants than against undocumented ones. At least if the documented immigrants are not on visas that tie their immigration status to their employment, which is something that Loomis is against.

      Duh.

      Maybe the reason that Loomis was dismissive of this point above was that it’s a really awful argument?

      • Ransom Stoddard

        Of course for a given quantity of immigration, unionizing will be faster and more likely under a legal regime than an illegal regime. But that’s not the comparison I was making: it was between the effects of a regime permitting a large quantity of immigration and a small quantity of immigration. And *if we accept Loomis’ arguments about a ‘race to the bottom’* then we should have the same protectionist stance on immigration that we do on trade. (Expanding this to the trade analogy, imagine if we had still had protectionist laws that caused foreign manufactures to be smuggled in as contraband. Presumably labor rights would be worse in an illegal, underground market than a legal one.)

        • matt w

          it was between the effects of a regime permitting a large quantity of immigration and a small quantity of immigration.

          “permitted” = legal, so this doesn’t even make sense on your own terms.

          *if we accept Loomis’ arguments about a ‘race to the bottom’* then we should have the same protectionist stance on immigration that we do on trade.

          Why? You’ve provided zero evidence. (“decreased scarcity of labor, increased ethnic divisions and the lower average education and training of the immigrants” is not evidence, since you haven’t given any evidence that this would pose an obstacle to unionization.)

          Importantly, one of Loomis’s arguments is that the problem with unrestricted trade is that it allows a race to the bottom by shifting production to countries with exploitative labor regimes that we would not tolerate in the US. Immigration does not cause that problem, because legal immigrants will be working in the US under US laws. So immigration would not cause a race to the bottom. This is an overwhelming theme of his posts and also the basis of the title of his book.

          Here’s some quotes from its website:

          When jobs can move anywhere in the world, bosses have no incentive to protect either their workers or the environment. Work moves seamlessly across national boundaries, yet the laws that protect us from rapacious behavior remain tied to national governments. This situation creates an all-too-familiar “race to the bottom,” where profit is generated on the backs of workers and at the cost of toxic pollution.

          In Out of Sight, Erik Loomis—a historian of both the labor and environmental movements—follows the thread that runs from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York in 1911 to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2013. The truth is that our systems of industrial production today are just as dirty and abusive as they were during the depths of the industrial revolution and the Gilded Age, but the ugly side of manufacturing is now hidden in faraway places where workers are most vulnerable.

          Today, American capitalists threaten that any environmental regulations will drive up the cost of production and force them to relocate our jobs to a country where they don’t face such laws and can re-create their toxic work conditions.

          You see how this argues for letting workers immigrate to the US rather than moving production overseas?

          • Ransom Stoddard

            I’ve got quite a lot to say in response, but I’ll start with the most important bit first. Labor laws are not the reason wages differ across nations. Wages are ultimately determined by productivity. Countries that have lots of manufacturing exports, such as South Korea, see wages rise as a result of their workers gaining skills that make them more productive. The implementation of policies you favor, to put legal and communal sanctions on employers that pay workers in developing countries their marginal product, would lead to a massive decrease in real wages in those nations, because workers in them would be forced into less efficient lower wage jobs.

            I’ll state something I regard as obvious, but I realize I should have made explicitly clear: the amount of immigration permitted by law is not the amount of immigration that occurs, any more than the amount of drug consumption, gambling or prostitution permitted by law is the amount that occurs. The problems I identify, according to Loomis’ logic, are a result of the quantity of immigrants, not of the legal sanctions placed on immigrants. They’d “exist” to the same or a greater degree under a more liberal regime.

            You’ve provided zero evidence. (“decreased scarcity of labor, increased ethnic divisions and the lower average education and training of the immigrants” is not evidence, since you haven’t given any evidence that this would pose an obstacle to unionization.)

            I regard all these claims as obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with American history. For example here’s what great unionist Samuel Gompers had to say about immigration: “America must not be overwhelmed. Every effort to enact immigration legislation must expect to meet a number of hostile forces and, in particular, two hostile forces of considerable strength.One of these is composed of corporation employers who desire to employ physical strength (broad backs) at the lowest possible wage and who prefer a rapidly revolving labor supply at low wages to a regular supply of American wage earners at fair wages.”
            And in fact the massive 1924 immigration restrictions of his time were supported by many on the same grounds that it would drive down wages for American workers. Note also that the influx of Chinese labor in California in the 19th century led to the detestable Chinese Exclusion act, based on the same fears that “unfair competition” from unskilled Chinese immigrants was “undercutting” American workers. It was supported by none other than that champion of social justice we learn about in our high school textbooks, the Knights of Labor. Loomis just wrote a post like 2 weeks ago about anti-Asian racism by American workers. What I’m trying to get across is that some very important unions seem to have believed historically that Trump style immigration restrictions were good policy. Consider also the response of construction unions to the Philadelphia Plan, the use of seniority rules to exclude African Americans from well paying jobs or the active discrimination of the AFL against African American workers. But don’t take my word for it, listen to what Loomis has to say on the UAW in the South: “I’m not prematurely letting the union off the hook for another loss, but it’s impossible to ignore the racial issue within southern unionism, an issue that has never been separable from southern organizing campaigns and something that employers have always exploited to divide workers.
            In other words, labor rights are indeed civil rights, but if the a lot of the white workers in the plant oppose civil rights, it’s unlikely they will support labor rights.”
            Are you seriously going to claim that racial divisions have never been a barrier to class solidarity? In an age where substantial portions of the American and European electorates favor nativist politicians that call for immigration policies even more inhumane than the status quo?
            Regarding whether scarce, skilled labor is easier to unionize than abundant, unskilled labor, well, I had sort of thought that the AMA was more influential than the SEIU, and that we all learned in AP U.S. History that the AFL was the more successful union because it had skilled laborers, and that guilds of high skilled workers have been organizing into cartels since antiquity. The fewer people in a group, the simpler it is to solve collective action problems through communication and cooperation. Not a very radical notion.

            I’m kind of curious as to what you mean by “exploitative” labor regimes. I was under the impression that in the U.S., we have a regime where workers are paid their marginal product in a competitive market. I was also under the impression that this was the case in China, India, Bangladesh and South Korea. In fact, one might regard it as obvious that the relevant comparison isn’t wages but unit labor costs. And what do you know, if you plot the cost per worker against the value added per worker, you get a direct correlation. Let’s turn the tables again for a moment: would you and Loomis approve of a regime where companies are prohibited by fiat from employing workers who happen to have made the mistake of being born in Bangladesh, China or India unless they pay them *more* than their marginal product? Do you honestly think a mass exodus of industry from Bangladesh, China or South Korea would be good for the people in those countries, since you regard the same phenomena as destructive in the U.S.? (The difference is in two words: “comparative advantage”).

            So, no, I don’t really see why workers performing unskilled, unpleasant low wage jobs in the geographic area of the United States is different from them performing unskilled, unpleasant low wage jobs in the geographic area of China. Using Loomis’ logic, that because when the supply of labor increases the price of labor decreases so therefore protectionism is good, there’s a clear case for immigration restrictions. If we allowed mass immigration, as Samuel Gompers so astutely noted, wages would fall to unfair levels. The fundamental fallacy underlying Loomis’ thinking is a belief that using the coercive power of the government to create an artificial scarcity is good policy. He wants to create an artificial rent on the labor of workers born in America. If the government preventing workers from outside America from competing with American workers, thereby allowing American workers to charge more for their labor, is a good policy with regard to trade it’s a good policy with regards to immigration.

            • MikeN

              I lived in China in the mid-1980s, and have lived in Taiwan for 25 years, with dealings with China, Vietnam etc.

              What he said.

            • matt w

              I was under the impression that in the U.S., we have a regime where workers are paid their marginal product in a competitive market. I was also under the impression that this was the case in China, India, Bangladesh and South Korea.

              LOL. Because they totally have labor protections there, amirite? So the wages they get are determined by a negotiation between the workers and the employers where the workers are able to capture their marginal product? And if they get killed in building collapses, well, that’s because their marginal product isn’t high enough to afford buildings that stay together.

              You spend a lot of fucking words when your basic point is just Econ 101 blather, as if it’s just the market the market the market determining everything. This is silly.

            • Origami Isopod

              Wages are ultimately determined by productivity. Countries that have lots of manufacturing exports, such as South Korea, see wages rise as a result of their workers gaining skills that make them more productive.

              AHAHAHAHA

              HAHAHAHAHAHA

              You are so full of shit.

  • ijkcomputer

    Theroux does drastically understate Tim Cook’s pay, which in 2014 was almost $300,000 a day even counting weekends. So there’s that.

  • AndersH

    The basic problem of neoliberalism is that it provides the moral justification for pro-corporate policies – a rising tide, enhanced efficiency, if we do that then we can institute more optimal redistribution mechanics – without having any answers how the final part of their policy prescription (better redistribution mechanics) will come about, given the political economy effects of pro-corporate policies.

    • xq

      The tide is rising for most workers in the world. Just not middle class in rich nations.

      • DrDick

        No, it is not. It is rising for the poorest in the underdeveloped countries and for the wealthiest globally. Inequality is growing globally.

        • xq

          Your links support my claim:

          1. The number of people living on less than $1.25 per day has dramatically decreased in the last three decades, from half of the citizens in the developing world in 1981 to 21% in 2010

          The gains have been quite broad outside of developed countries:

          http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/01/recent-history-in-one-chart/

          The very wealthy have done extremely well, but so have the people from 10-70% on the global income distribution. The bottom 10% and those in the 80-95% (developed world middle class) have done poorly.

  • LWA

    I notice how the defenders of the current regime of global trade always seem to begin with cheerful talk of “win-win” scenarios but then at the first challenge whip out the Lifeboat Problem from freshman Philosophy 101, asserting that in order to stave off calamity either 3rd World or American workers have to be sacrificed.

  • Brien Jackson

    It seems particularly dumb because it’s not really an either-or proposition, and Matthews should know this. Even if certain jobs migrate from the U.S. to other areas, proper monetary/fiscal policy should/would replace those jobs with something else.

  • UserGoogol

    I’d say the main problem with the article is that it attacks preventing global poverty. Hypocrisy is the tribute virtue pays to vice. If someone bad does something good, that makes them a hypocrite, but we shouldn’t chastise them for it, they did something good. We should devote our resources to helping global poverty and not exploit workers.

    • Let’s be clear–capitalists are not helping global workers with any intention and we should not think of them as doing so. They are more than happy to kill these workers if it increases profits. The framing that capitalism solves global poverty is deeply problematic.

  • j_kay

    It’s the usual NYT wrong; the South actually did factories ourselves, of course, because we were Progressive and pro-middle-class and pro-factory and fast transit.

    You can tell I must be right, because Texas has tons of every high tech like Dell. And are well started on the next nano.

    We started with things like Grandad’s spool factory.

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