Terry Golway

The hour was early, the morning was grey, and the new year was only days old. It was not a time when one’s powers of concentration are especially keen. But when I heard, or thought I heard, a radio announcer mumble something about job figures for December, I cringed out of sympathy for the poor fellow. If I had heard correctly, and I wasn’t sure I had, surely the announcer had made an awful mistake. He had just stated, on live radio, that the nation’s economy had created only 1,000 jobs in December. A thousand jobs? Impossible!

He or his writer obviously had misplaced at least one zero, maybe two. Or maybe I simply had misheard him, or maybe he was talking about job creation in New Jersey, where I live. Still, 1,000 jobs didn’t sound right, even for a small state like mine.

As it turned out, I had heard correctly. The United States of America, home of the greatest economy in human history, in fact had created only 1,000 jobs in December. The experts had been anticipating more than 100,000 new jobs.

Wall Street, it seems unnecessary to add, barely shrugged. There’s a bull market underway in lower Manhattan. Nobody wanted to call off the party just because the richest country in the world managed to create only 1,000 jobs in a month.

Then again, job creation is a complicated business these days, as any number of highly skilled unemployed people can attest. American companies may not be creating jobs here at home, but they are certainly doing so abroad. That’s an old story, of course, but recent years have brought a new twist to a depressing tale entitled The Death of the Great American Job. In the early 1980’s, American companies successfully moved thousands of well-paying blue-collar jobs overseas. American factory workers were told that they could no longer compete with the exploitable masses in the developing world. Get some education, workers were told, and all will be well. Go to a community college! Learn a skill for the great new information age!

Millions did just that. And now thousands are out of work as the nation’s corporations move white-collar, information-age jobs to India, Ireland and other countries where labor costs are lower than here at home. There are no comforting words for these workers, no pats on the back and promises of a brighter future through better education. Instead they are dismissed as innocent but unavoidable sacrifices offered to appease the secular gods of free trade.

What can you do? That is the lament of free-trade cheerleaders, nearly all of whom are ensconced in jobs that won’t be moving to the Pacific Rim any time soon. One nationally known commentator lashed out at New York’s Senator Charles Schumer and the economist Paul Craig Roberts for writing an essay expressing doubts about free trade dogma. The only reason people like Senator Schumer were having second thoughts about free trade, the commentator said, is that the new losers happen to be highly educated professionalsthe kind of people U.S. senators might actually know. He suggested that this was a bad reason to doubt free trade dogma.

I think it’s a darn good reason. In fact, I wish more politicians and policymakers came face to face with the consequences of the laws they pass and the policies they embrace. I wish more leadersand commentatorswere exposed to the often chilly winds of free trade. They often denounce protectionism, but they operate in a world well protected from free tradeunless you can imagine a day when Congress is outsourced to Indonesia and media companies hire pundits from Central America to replace, say, CNN’s Capital Gang.

It surely is imperative, and highly moral, to encourage development in poor countries. Free trade, it is said, can help achieve that laudable goal. But it is also fair to wonder if free trade dogma is being used for less than altruistic purposes. You don’t have to be a mad conspiracy theorist to suggest that corporate America is using free trade to intimidate an American work force it considers to be too expensive, too demanding and too independent. The history of unregulated capitalism, it must be said, suggests such possibilities. More than 100 years ago, capitalists pitted immigrants against native-born workers to drive down wages and suppress union agitation. Today, in a supposedly more civil economy, multinational corporations use the specter of free trade to keep American workers in line. Is that such an outlandish proposition? I don’t think so.

Only one presidential candidate, Richard Gephardt, dares to quibble with free-trade orthodoxy. Everybody else has signed on, more or less, to the notion that American workers must learn to compete with dollar-a-day workers in the third world. I find that notion morally repugnant and profoundly un-American.

A century-and-a-half ago, some of the champions of Victorian-era free trade said that nothing could be done to prevent mass starvation in Ireland, even though the country was overflowing with food. But those crops, you see, were designated for export, and exported they were. A million people died.

Today, Americans who played by the rules are losing their jobs, because corporate America can make bigger profits off the backs of the exploitable poor elsewhere.

Those who dare question this arrangement can expect only condemnation.

Terry Golway is a writer for The New York Observer.

Comments

Timothy Huegerich | 1/24/2004 - 2:49pm
I was shocked to read Terry Golway claim, in his otherwise excellent column "Free Trade's Losers," that only Dick Gephardt "dares to quibble with free-trade orthodoxy." He went on to attribute "the notion that American workers must learn to compete with dollar-a-day workers in the third world" to even Howard Dean.

He is mistaken. Gov. Dean is clearly and forcefully in favor of renegotiating NAFTA and other trade agreements to include meaningful labor, environmental, and human rights protections to both protect foreign workers and help keep American jobs at home. He would ensure that new trade agreements include these protections and are vigorously enforced.

Anyone who shares Golway's wish that more "policymakers came face to face with the consequences of the laws they pass" should also consider Dr. Dean's first-hand experience dealing with our broken health care system as a doctor. This experience propelled him to action in Vermont, where 99% of children and 96% of adults now have health insurance due to his efforts.

I believe Gov. Dean deserves the vote of every Catholic for a variety of other reasons, as well. First among them is the way he opposed the Iraq war so courageously at a time when Catholics following the Pope in opposing the war had virtually no political voice.

Vincent Murphy | 2/16/2004 - 9:52pm
Terry Golway's article left me a bit upset. He states that the only presidential candidate to dare quibble about free trade is Richard Gephart.

Dennis Kucinich campaigns contantly,and voted in opposition to NAFTA and the WTO. In fact it was he who is responsible for other candidates speaking about this as a problem. His platform is to have capitalism as a economic base along with government regulations for the good of the people with local labor and reasonable profits strenghtening local communities.

Dennis Kucinich is not to be ignored. People like him bring creative ideas to the nation.

Joe Kash | 2/6/2004 - 11:25pm
Contrary to Terry Golway's assertion that "American workers must learn to compete with dollar-a-day workers in the third world", it is the impoverished people of third world countries that have to compete with the highly productive American worker. I find the notion that we need to discourage expansion of jobs in these despirate countries morally repugnant and profoundly un-Christian!

Pierre Godefroy | 2/5/2004 - 7:38pm
It is not often that I agree with Terry Golway's commentary, but in this case I believe he is right on, if not in all the details, then certainly in the sentiment he expresses. The exodus of blue collar jobs, and now white collar jobs is having a devastating effect on the average mid-range worker, or what we used to know as the middle class. And it is my unsubstantiated opinion that the common denominator here is Corporate America's insatiable quest for bigger and bigger profits. After all how else can corporations pay those exorbitant salaries and bonuses to top management?

Paul D. McNelis, S.J. | 2/9/2007 - 9:36am
In reaction to Mr. Golway’s short article bashing free trade (2/2): I think that he is completely wrong on historical grounds with respect to the Irish famine. For years, I used to require my students in international economics at Georgetown to read Cecil Woodham Smith’s The Great Hunger (unfortunately now out of print). The problem was not free trade but precisely the opposite. Prime Minister Robert Peel had to fight for the repeal of the Corn Laws, which were high tariffs on the importation of “corn” (meaning wheat, barley and other foodstuffs) from the thriving agricultural sectors in the Americas (Canada, United States and Argentina). The key to famine relief was getting cheap grain, and this could happen only by free trade. The tragedy of the Irish famine was not free trade but that the United Kingdom moved to free trade too late.

Mr. Golway implicitly equates free international trade with laissez-faire economics. As the Nobel laureate A. K. Sen has reminded us, this link was a 19th-century concept. We are now in the 21st century. We have seen that opportunities for free trade have been used successfully and strategically by many countries for getting on the fast track for development (many Asian countries and more recently Ireland, Spain and Italy). This means that there is an important place for government planning, investment in education and trade adjustment assistance for the labor force to retrain themselves.

My main argument against Mr. Golway’s position is to ask, what is the alternative? For many poor people of the world, there is no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy to get them out of poverty and put their countries on a sustainable-growth path. I say three cheers for “sweatshops” in Indonesia or Thailand. Does Mr. Golway prefer to see the women in these countries work instead in rice paddies or the sex industry and ultimately die of AIDS? This is the reality of poverty in much of the developing world.

Mr. Golway’s positions will take us back to the protectionist days of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover. If he really is a Harding-Coolidge-Hoover Republican, he should admit it, and come out of his “protectionist Hoover-era closet.” The trade liberalization put forward by Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull, continued by succeeding administrations, paved the way for an unparalleled period of economic growth in world economic history. The free trade in Europe, leading to the common market and the European Union, has created cohesion and growth among countries at war with each other two times in the last century.

Yes, there are problems with free trade. Many less developed countries are lagging behind (particularly those that have not opened themselves to international trade). Yes, there is corruption in the world. Yes, there is a definite case for going slow on financial liberalization (as opposed to trade liberalization) in developing countries. But one of the few things we know from economics, both theoretically and empirically, is that free trade is a necessary condition for longer-term economic growth and poverty reduction. I say “necessary” as opposed to “sufficient” condition, because free trade alone is no panacea for growth.

I am sorry to see America’s columnists putting out such articles, which will only give the magazine the image of being very naïve and uninformed about the realities of international trade and commerce. If you wish to attract intelligent Catholic men and women in business to read your magazine, you should get beyond whining (and getting the facts completely wrong) about 19th-century trade controversies, and above all, stop advocating a return to Hoover-era policies.

(Rev.) John Swing | 2/9/2007 - 9:32am
The lament of “Free Trade Losers,” by Terry Golway (2/2), goes both ways. For decades U.S. jobs have been sustained by cheap raw material imports: oil (of course), tin, wolfram, bauxite and a host of other exotic metals, plus agricultural products grown on the land of the poor by U.S. interests with little compensation. Trade, not aid, is a painful but necessary step in addressing world poverty and justice. If the principles of free enterprise can work in our country, they can work in the worldwide community as well.

Stephen M. Fields, S.J. | 2/9/2007 - 10:17am
I would like to thank America for running the engaging exchange on free trade and tariffs among Terry Golway (2/2), John Swing and Paul McNelis (3/1). Their forthright conversation exposed the complexity of making ethical and public policy judgments about this topical issue. I especially appreciate America’s courage in not backing away from the controversy generated by healthy disagreements. This shows America’s commitment, not only to intellectual integrity, but to one of the grounding principles of Catholic morality. Ethics is a practical science based on the virtue of prudence. Reasonable people of good will can and should reach different conclusions about matters that are neither divinely revealed nor patently evident to the natural law. And they can and should be passionate about their convictions.

Most important, America has offered its readers the opportunity to exercise their own prudential judgment by following the debate. And this is a moral service to us indeed!

Timothy Huegerich | 1/24/2004 - 2:49pm
I was shocked to read Terry Golway claim, in his otherwise excellent column "Free Trade's Losers," that only Dick Gephardt "dares to quibble with free-trade orthodoxy." He went on to attribute "the notion that American workers must learn to compete with dollar-a-day workers in the third world" to even Howard Dean.

He is mistaken. Gov. Dean is clearly and forcefully in favor of renegotiating NAFTA and other trade agreements to include meaningful labor, environmental, and human rights protections to both protect foreign workers and help keep American jobs at home. He would ensure that new trade agreements include these protections and are vigorously enforced.

Anyone who shares Golway's wish that more "policymakers came face to face with the consequences of the laws they pass" should also consider Dr. Dean's first-hand experience dealing with our broken health care system as a doctor. This experience propelled him to action in Vermont, where 99% of children and 96% of adults now have health insurance due to his efforts.

I believe Gov. Dean deserves the vote of every Catholic for a variety of other reasons, as well. First among them is the way he opposed the Iraq war so courageously at a time when Catholics following the Pope in opposing the war had virtually no political voice.

Vincent Murphy | 2/16/2004 - 9:52pm
Terry Golway's article left me a bit upset. He states that the only presidential candidate to dare quibble about free trade is Richard Gephart.

Dennis Kucinich campaigns contantly,and voted in opposition to NAFTA and the WTO. In fact it was he who is responsible for other candidates speaking about this as a problem. His platform is to have capitalism as a economic base along with government regulations for the good of the people with local labor and reasonable profits strenghtening local communities.

Dennis Kucinich is not to be ignored. People like him bring creative ideas to the nation.

Joe Kash | 2/6/2004 - 11:25pm
Contrary to Terry Golway's assertion that "American workers must learn to compete with dollar-a-day workers in the third world", it is the impoverished people of third world countries that have to compete with the highly productive American worker. I find the notion that we need to discourage expansion of jobs in these despirate countries morally repugnant and profoundly un-Christian!

Pierre Godefroy | 2/5/2004 - 7:38pm
It is not often that I agree with Terry Golway's commentary, but in this case I believe he is right on, if not in all the details, then certainly in the sentiment he expresses. The exodus of blue collar jobs, and now white collar jobs is having a devastating effect on the average mid-range worker, or what we used to know as the middle class. And it is my unsubstantiated opinion that the common denominator here is Corporate America's insatiable quest for bigger and bigger profits. After all how else can corporations pay those exorbitant salaries and bonuses to top management?

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