Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Trade--And Everything Else--Should Be Free For The Rich

I knew nothing about Carly Fiorina until recently and I was shocked when I saw how many people lost jobs because of her business tactics. One of the reasons I was shocked was because the people who were fired took the news submissively. Fiorina should not be able to walk around in public without being reminded of the suffering she inflicted on others. As I already posted in a comment, not everyone takes being fired calmly:
Air France executives were forced to flee with their clothes in tatters after workers stormed a meeting at Charles de Gaulle airport in protest at 2,900 planned job cuts.  
Human resources chief Xavier Broseta and Pierre Plissonnier, head of long-haul flights, scaled an eight-foot fence to escape, aided by security guards. Broseta emerged shirtless and Plissonnier had his suit ripped to shreds.  
Violence erupted Monday as Air France told its works council that 300 pilots, 900 flight attendants and 1,700 ground staff might have to go after failed productivity talks with flight crew. The protest, in which agitators chanted “naked, naked,” is just the latest to turn physical in France, where managers at Michelin & Cie. and Sony Corp. have been held hostage over firings, irate farmers have blocked city streets with tractors and manure, and more than 100 Uber Technologies Inc. taxis were smashed up by rival drivers.
And we all know someone else who should not be allowed to walk around in public without being censured.

Yesterday Megan McArdle wrote yet another ode to free trade but ideology was not the impetus for her support. As we could see from her post about piecework, she is motivated by greed. It is the basis for her support for free trade and her animosity for American workers. She wants more money, more goods and services, without giving anything in return. The only thing keeping her from supporting indentured servitude is that she thinks it's easier to rent servants by the hour. Instead of doing her job-analyze and report--she gives a massive sigh and pout that people stand in the way of her greed and selfishness.
I’ve spent the morning reading about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I went in prepared to deliver a column full of details, winners and losers, strong opinions about the good provisions and the bad. But what really comes to mind is a dismal thought: “Is this the best we can do?” 
Oh, yes, I know the statistics. Forty percent of the world’s economy. Thousands of tariffs falling. I know the opposition points too, about giveaways to business, intellectual property rules, outsourcing jobs. No one is talking about the larger story, though, which is that the biggest trade news in a decade involves a regional deal of relatively limited impact.

The real story here is that McArdle doesn't want to pay for goods or services. She wants workers to be forced to pick up work at the whim of someone with an app, to work without stability, a living wage or benefits, so she can buy more consumer goods and have more money in the bank or the stock market and squeeze her servants out of a living wage.

McArdle admits that breaking down trade barriers has been very successful but not successful enough!

It was not always thus. When I was a fledgling journalist, a wee slip of a thing, we economics writers looked to major global trade negotiations to advance the cause of freer markets, and not incidentally, the material progress of mankind. We looked down on regional side-deals because they were such weak tea compared with the robust brew of a global agreement. Regional deals distorted the flow of trade, encouraging people not to exploit comparative advantage and production capabilities, but rather to seek the best combination of tariff rules from among competing regional frameworks. I have heard arguments that such deals, by distorting trade and weakening the pressure to make global deals, were actually worse than doing nothing. Indeed, I may have made such arguments.
Indeed she did, as I pointed out in her comments. Previously she said that labor suffered from free trade but eh, whaddaya gonna do?
You don’t hear those arguments any more, and that’s because we free-traders have largely given up on global trade agreements. The Doha round of World Trade Organization talks collapsed in the face of European agricultural protectionism and intransigence among countries with large numbers of subsistence farmers. Nativism, protectionism, nationalism seem to be rising as a political force in many countries. Global trade volumes are looking anemic. In this climate, regional agreements seem attractive, in much the same way that the remaining bar patrons assume a winsome glow around closing time.
She should know, considering the amount of time she spends in bars.
How have things come to such an unpretty pass?
Unspoken in her ruminations is the struggle between the rich, who want more money, and the poor, who want jobs. She deliberately leaves out the worker's struggles. No, it's not a fight for your family's survival. It's something else that will be easier to denegrate.
... The dismal story, of course, is that free trade has fallen prey to other, darker forces. As automation has done away with what used to be high-paying, semi-skilled jobs, people have given in to the natural human urge to find a foreigner to blame for their troubles. That has undercut the support for free trade when falling global growth rates mean we most need it.... Free trade has been a great success, and that has probably made further liberalization seem less urgent. But just look to the success of the Trump campaign to understand that this is not the only reason that trade liberalization is struggling.
As a commenter pointed out:
MC • 21 hours ago  
"As automation has done away with what used to be high-paying, semi-skilled jobs, people have given in to the natural human urge to find a foreigner to blame for their troubles."  
WAIT, in your last post, you said that American wage stagnation was likely due to "automation of low- to medium-skilled work in the manufacturing and clerical sectors, or the outsourcing of those jobs abroad." Now, you blame only automation. So which is it? Have American workers lost jobs to outsourcing? If they have, then doesn't that suggest that they aren't just xenophobically blaming free trade, but that free trade is actually somewhat responsible? I'm agnostic on free trade, but maybe free trade is hitting rough sledding politically because it...hasn't worked out as painlessly as was promised?
People aren't trying to protect their jobs. They're intransigent nativists. They're trying to keep growth rates from increasing. Why won't they think of the .01% instead of their selfish desire to work hard for a living, thereby depriving McArdle of the chance to consume even more than she already does?


Ken Houghton said...

Given her contribution to The Daily Least today, this is almost lucid.

Susan of Texas said...

Did she post at the Daily Beast today? Or do you mean the Facebook post? Which was deeply stupid: There are FB users who are naïve about privacy but privacy activism is best left to users.

One of her Facebook chat answers was classic McMegan:

Bloomberg View From the column's comment section: "If companies think that no one is paying attention, you haven't begun to see the amount of intrusiveness that's possible." Megan, do you think this is true?

Megan McArdle Companies do think that no one is paying attention to them, and I think they're largely right about this. And that's something worth noting about privacy activists, and other sorts of anti-corporate activists, even when I disagree with them: they are one of the reasons that companies don't go loonie and do a bunch of horrible things.

Now, I'm not arguing that companies never do horrible things. But really, when you think of all the ways that companies could lie and cheat and abuse their customers, they're actually remarkably honest. That's not an argument against regulation, or whatever, it's just an observation that they could be much worse. It's remarkably true of lots of stuff in American life, actually; for example, tax evasion is actually pretty easy to get away with, but most people don't try.

There are lots of reasons that companies don't do every bad thing they could do. For one, there are people in these companies, and people do not, on balance, like to do horrible things to other people. Also, many horrible things risk a backlash from your customers, which would cost more than any profit you'd make off said horribleness. One factor that keeps companies afraid of a backlash is the activists who will publicize any dodgy activity that comes to light. So these groups are really useful, even vital, to having a good capitalist society.

But that doesn't mean that we should therefore think "companies bad, activist groups good". Activist groups, which are also made up of people, can be venal, self-interested, stupid, or simply mistaken, just like companies. And they almost always view their personal preferences and values as synonymous with the public good, even though much of the public does not share these preferences or values. So we should be glad that activist groups are around to keep companies honest--but we should also be skeptical of the activists too.

Anonymous said...

god. dammit.

Susan of Texas said...

I skipped over that post because Roy Edroso did such a good job of covering it. Very best line:"Critiques of Fiorina’s tenure seem excessively focused on the outcome."

Anonymous said...

which is of course a blatant lie on her end since anyone following it knew there was a massive power struggle at HP at the time over the merger.

Susan of Texas said...

I'm torn--did McArdle write that article knowing absolutely nothing about Fiorina? Or did she just lie? Or did she lie because she didn't care what Fiorina did or did not do?