Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Saturday, July 11, 2015


See, there's the planet and all the people on it. The planet has stuff on it that can be sold. The people can make things or buy things. (The people should not expect to do both; that would decrease profit.) All that stuff-an entire world, the entirety of humanity--belong to the rich. Because the rich own everything and everyone they also have the right to dispose of the planet and its people as they please.

Think of the aliens in, well, every movie ever. They come to Planet Earth, convert its atmosphere to their liking, suck up all its resources, consume the people, and when the planet is depleted and the people no longer of use it moves on to the next planet.

But instead of sticking a cigar in Will Smith's mouth, handing him a plane and an unconventionally attractive genius co-pilot, and bidding him to go with God and kill every last planet-raping, people-eating monster, some humans watch aliens on reality tv so they can admire the aliens' wealth and power and appetites. They buy books about how to become a better and more successful monster. And some of them even gather together in rhapsodic harmony to imagine what it would be like to be monster, and share tales of all the monstrous things they do to be just like the aliens.

Which brings us back to McMegan McArdle, McMonster.

If Africa wants to get rich, a good place to start is probably the garment trade.
Hmmm. Would Africa get rich if it got into the garment trade? Well, Africa is a country continent, so probably not. Maybe some people might get rich but they will be Africans who are already rich and a bunch of global billionaires.
Historically, the path to wealth for nations has run through manufacturing. Manufacturing gives you a way to quickly move a lot of people from low-productivity farming to higher-productivity jobs without requiring that they pick up lots of new skills first. And the garment industry fits the bill admirably; it does not not require lots of expensive infrastructure or a skilled population that can supply and maintain fancy machines, and it does use lots of low-skilled labor. Once you get people through the factory gates, their higher productivity and earnings will support improvements in infrastructure, education and services, that can fuel further growth. Eventually, one hopes that your country will get too rich to support much garment manufacturing, because workers will be able to command wages too high for low-margin, hypercompetitive garment factories. Then the workers move into higher-wage jobs, the factories move to a lower-wage locale, and everyone enjoys a higher income through the magic of Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage.
Now we are getting to the point where I must spend a lot of time looking up statistics that McArdle doesn't even think to question, time more pleasantly spent commenting at alicublog or communing with the cats, raccoons, mice, rats, and opossums that scamper through my back yard like it's Penn Station and they have a train to catch. Does manufacturing enrich countries like China? In a way.
The discussion highlights the uneven distribution of wealth that persists amid China’s rapid economic growth. China has the world’s most billionaires after the US, according to a report by Wealth-X and UBS. At the same time, 18 provinces have downgraded their expectations for per capita disposable income this year, and overall measures of inequality in China only improved a smidgeon last year, according to government statistics. Bloggers found that even higher-range Chinese salaries don’t fare very well in the global league tables. The average salary for public-sector workers is around 60% higher than the equivalent in the private sector, but is still only 60% of the global average. Using CNN’s tool, Chinese media plugged in government figures for the country’s “high income” bracket of urban disposable income (link in Chinese)—and discovered that the closest equivalent is a taxi driver in South Africa.

Once global manufacturing leaves Asia for Africa those low-paid Chinese will have a small problem. We all know what happens when manufacturing leaves a country; the poor can't find work and now they no longer live on a farm. How will the poor educate their children now? Chinese schools are state and parent funded. Without a large pool of consumers, how will the higher-paid Chinese stay employed?

Over the last few decades, we've seen the dazzling effects of this as economies moved up the value chain from simple products to fancy ones. There was a time in America when "Made in Japan" was a standard joke denoting cheap schlock, but the Japanese had the last laugh, as they leveraged their tchotchke dominance into a global manufacturing juggernaut that started competing to make our cars and televisions. Japan, in turn, shed its low-skill jobs to neighbors like South Korea and China. And now China is getting rich enough that other countries are luring away some of the lower-skilled work. But normally, we think about that work going to Vietnam or Bangladesh, not Africa. That may be starting to change; the Wall Street Journal notes that "Ethiopia was recently identified as a top sourcing destination by apparel companies, according to McKinsey & Co., which surveyed executives responsible for procuring $70 billion of goods annually — the first time an African country was mentioned alongside Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar." With Asia getting richer, global corporations are looking farther afield. A garment worker in China, the Journal says, gets anywhere from $150 to $300 a month; that same worker in Ethiopia makes only $21. Those those kinds of wage differentials are quite enticing, as Americans have learned by watching manufacturing jobs move abroad.
Again we are told that "now China is getting rich." The rich who own factories are getting richer but remember, the humans don't own China, the rich aliens do. The humans are fodder. McArdle goes on to say that lack of infrastructure, violence and corruption would be impediments on Africa's journey to richness.
That said, there are still a lot of hurdles to overcome. African manufacturing is currently a blip on the radar compared to China, and it will take a long time to see the kind of revolution we've seen elsewhere. Catch-up growth takes quite a while to take off. There's a lot standing between Africa and that goal, such as some basic infrastructure; it doesn't matter how low your wages are if there aren't any good roads to get your products to port, or if there are no good ports.
That's what the taxpayer is for!

Armed conflict is obviously another. Corruption usually makes this list as well, and at a certain level -- say, where Iraq was a few years ago -- it seems clear that it's going to choke off growth. But I doubt you need Swedish levels of corruption control to get economic growth, either. Corruption is a huge civic issue, but quite a lot of Asian countries have managed quite a lot of growth without anything like the corruption control and "good government" that I used to assume would naturally boost a country's economic prospects. So I've gone back to loving good government for its own beautiful self, rather than its economic benefits. Economically, I'm much more interested in whether you have reliable electric power and somewhere nearby that a container ship can dock.

In this paragraph McArdle links to two of her lying posts in support of her alien masters. The Iraq post blamed the lack of a post-invasion government on Iraqi corruption and regulation, ignoring the CPA altogether. The article on corruption claims that political corruption is necessary to ease legislative gridlock. Obviously China does not have a problem with corruption. They don't need no stinkin' regulations.  Executions suffice when China does have a problem with corruption. If McArdle wants to imply we should execute the Koch brothers for manslaughter I agree wholeheartedly.

The remaining question is, of course, whether we should be rooting for profit-seeking global corporations to take manufacturing jobs to Africa if they will pay such pitifully low wages. You'll probably not be surprised to hear that my unequivocal answer is "yes." Just consider what the alternatives must be if people are willing to slave in a factory for $21 a month. So moving jobs to Ethiopia, or elsewhere in Africa, does good for dreadfully impoverished people.

Yes. Just consider how much better it would be for Africans to work like slaves.

She actually said "slave."

I could go on and might do just that but really, is there any more to be said? This statement should end her career for all time but I've said that so often I ought to make a macro.

Of course this is not about Black or White or Asian. It's about power, the power to see the world and mankind itself as a commodity up for grabs.

It's amazing that proper journalists don't get rid of McArdle to protect their own marketability. They work in the same circles and she is devaluing their brand. One would think self-preservation would kick in if not ethics.


rjs said...

i had to stop reading were quoting too much McArdle, it was making me crazy...

Susan of Texas said...

I had to stop writing it when I got to the slave part. Jesus.

Tenney Naumer said...

Honestly, I don't know how you keep it up. That's beyond stamina.

Susan of Texas said...

I take frequent breaks and remember that being Megan McArdle must be even worse than reading Megan McArdle.

Downpuppy said...

The "enticement" of being able to pay $21/month.

Not only is she serious, her legions of commenters


DocAmazing said...

Small quibble: Africa is a continent, not a country--the world;s second-largest, and very diverse.

Susan of Texas said...

I hear she's perfectly charming in person.

Now I look at people and wonder if they'd rather be in Dubai being served cocktails by near-slaves.

Susan of Texas said...

DocAmazing--thanks. Doh!

Ellis Weiner said...

Does she breathe a word about institutions and events that force people out of their accustomed lifestyles and into cities and their factories? Or does she suggest it's all in voluntary pursuit of the British/American/Korean/African Dream? That it's their go-getter pluck and will to move up that prompts them to "slave"? Never mind.

cynic said...

If Africa can manage the same kind of growth that Asia has managed in the last 70 years, then eventually we can look forward to a much more equal and much more wealthy world.

Shorter McMegan: I need to continue to be able to buy cheap shit from around the world even if it means destroying their way of life for the next 70 years.

Susan of Texas said...

Tony in San Diego, I laughed every time Palin opened her mouth, bought clothes for her unwed pregnant daughter with political contributions from granny and Bubba, pretended to shoot, quit her job, or passed her sell-by date in the lusty imaginations of conservative men!

Susan of Texas said...

Cynic, McArdle can't imagine that any Africans (from tribe to city dweller) would not be better off working in a sweatshop for dimes a day. Mostly because she can't imagine any African.

cynic said...

Mostly because she can't imagine any African.

Yes she can and you are being too generous to her. She can imagine them when they whisper to her on the bus about gentrification. She can imagine them needing our benevolent factories so they can pick cotton in africa since it is no longer wise to suggest they pick cotton in mississippi.

She is suggesting with a straight face that people eking out a living in bangladesh can go to hell when their livelihood moves to africa - just so she can continue to by $2 t-shirts. She does so because she knows her brand of ass-kissing american wealthy can never be outsourced so her own livelihood is never at risk.

She is pure evil.

fish said...

She and Matt Yglesias can hold hold hands in rapture as they opine how much better the lives of Africans are now that they have "real" jobs, right before their entire intellectual edifice collapses.

Susan of Texas said...

I remember that well. Both Yglesias and McArdle showed the same lack of empathy, which probably means that Yglesias must police himself to pretend to care about workers. In his haste he neglected to observe the proprieties.

mccamj said...

I love to read Jonathan Bernstein so I go to Bloomberg quite often. It's a rare day when I can get through anything Megan produces. Keep it up Susan. Thanks.

Charles said...

It's just hysterical, all of these people suddenly finding out all of this dirt on their party. Did they really think they were intellectuals?