August 27, 2002
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Modesto Bee (CA) – September 6, 2002
One of the good things about the stock market coming back down to Earth after a prolonged bubble is that it leads people to question misconceptions about the economy.
Like the investment advisers who hawked Enron and WorldCom stocks as they were heading toward disaster, most of the “experts” on globalization have long been avoiding the real numbers.
For starters: The real median hourly wage in 1973 was $12.45 — measured in 2000 dollars. In 2000, it was about $12.90. Considering that the U.S. economy grew by 72 percent on a per-capita basis during that period, somebody got shafted. Anyone who is old enough to have lived through the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s knows that it was not uncommon for a typical wage earner to buy a house, support a family, and even put the kids through college with just one income. That doesn’t happen anymore.
Interestingly, almost all of the research by economists shows that our opening up to foreign trade contributed to this massive redistribution of income.
The only question is: how much? Even if we take the smaller estimates of how much redistribution was due to increased trade — not to mention U.S. firms moving production overseas — it is easy to show that about three-quarters of the U.S. labor force has suffered a net loss due to globalization.
This takes into account — as do the above numbers on the real median wage — all the cheap DVD and CD players, clothing and other consumer goods that we now import from overseas. For the vast majority of Americans, the losses from globalization have outweighed the gains, in strictly economic terms.
This should not be surprising, since our political leaders have made it their mission for more than 30 years to rewrite the rules of global commerce — in such agreements as the North American Free Trade Agreement or the World Trade Organization — in ways that give corporations more power and workers less.
What about the developing world? Unfortunately the official, undisputed numbers tell a very different story here, too, than the one we have heard from the cheerleaders on TV.
The growth of income per person in the low- and middle-income countries dropped sharply over the past 20 years. If we compare the past two decades (1980 to 2000) to the previous 20 years (1960 to 1980), we find that these economies advanced by less than half their prior rate of growth.
As a result of this slower economic growth, most developing countries also saw reduced progress over the past 20 years in such areas as life expectancy, infant and child mortality, literacy, and education.
This long experiment in corporate-led globalization has been a failure, at home and abroad. It is time to face up to the facts.