Pat gets a discount no-prize for bringing us this NYT piece about what might be the final decline of the US textile industry:
For many years, textile and clothing factories in the mill towns of the Carolinas - originally drawn from New York and New England decades ago by the prospect of inexpensive nonunion workers - have been closing one after another as the industry migrated abroad in search of ever-cheaper labor. Now, this gradual loss may be about to turn into a rout.
On Jan. 1, the global system of country-by-country quotas regulating the $495 billion international trade in textiles and apparel is scheduled to be eliminated.
The article goes into great, predictable, detail about how a small innocent Southern town is being decimated by foreign competition and government neglect. Which is, on the face of it, sincerely tragic and rather difficult for a free marketeer to argue against. Until you re-phrase the question:
Should we all be forced to pay six billion dollars more for our clothes to ensure a few thousand people get to keep their jobs?
There are some of you out there who will respond with a raucous "yes!" Who would be quite willing to pay a premium for a "made in USA" tag. To which I say "more power to you!" It's your money, it should be your choice, and if you decide to help these people with your dollars then great, that's the way it's supposed to work.
But the cold hard truth is we're not doing it. To this day I can sing "Look for the Union Label", a jingle to a commercial run thirty years ago in an attempt to get people to "buy American" textiles. It didn't work then, and it's not working now. No matter what smoke and mirrors main stream media and union organizers try to distract us with, the bottom line is it's not the government's fault the textile industry is in free fall. It's ours.
Our penance? Being forced to do our patriotic duty. That's right folks, they're not asking you to "buy American", they're telling you. That is, ultimately, what quotas and trade barriers are all about. Taking choice out of our hands and putting it in the hands of those who think (sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not) they know better than we do. Technocratic stasis at its purest.
Noble as saving jobs for rural, poorly educated citizens is, where does it stop? If we save the textile industry, why can't we save the auto industry? The dairy farmers? The steel mills? The bell hops? The travel agents? And who decides which industries get protection, and which ones don't? I may personally be able to afford an extra $4 per shirt, but for a lot of people $4 can make the difference between being clothed and going naked.
To which, of course, technocrats intone the world over "We are the Ones Who will Decide Who Should Pay More and Who Should Pay Less." The truly sad thing is many of you actually believe them. So instead of a free market in which we get to decide who stays and who goes, we end up with a cabal of elite who do whatever they please while ensuring the "rabble" (i.e. you and me) bear the brunt of their decisions about what is fair and what is not.
America has one of the most efficient, mobile, and educated workforces in the world. We work more hours and produce more per hour than any other country on the planet. Sophisticated companies producing sophisticated products are constantly building factories in this country because increasingly wealthy consumers around the world are demanding sophisticated products with phenomenal quality and unsurpassed capabilities that can only be built here. As the world gets wealthier, our supernaturally capable mousetraps are causing them to pave a path to our door.
"Well, that's all well and good Scott", I can hear you say, "but that doesn't hide the fact that textile jobs are still moving overseas. You're just blowing smoke, because obviously we can't compete there, and perhaps anywhere else."
To which I say, to be blunt, bullshit. There's no reason our textile industry can't leverage our superior infrastructure, work ethic, technology, and educated workforce to carve giant chunks out of the hides of anyone who tries to take us on.
Well, no reason except one:
Current trade adjustment assistance, largely aimed at training workers for new jobs, was denounced by factory owners and union officials in this region as too little and too difficult. (emphasis added)
Anyone outside a union who's ever had to deal with one will be the first to tell you about the insanity organized labor imposes on a business. My dad to this day can regale you with tales of bolts on spacecraft that went untightened because union regulations specified only a certain person could turn the wrench. No matter what their (admittedly powerful) emotional appeal, modern labor unions wrap a noose around the neck of any industry that touches them. They may protect, for a time, but when the trap door of competition is opened instead of bouncing on the ground below, coming up bruised but otherwise fine, all a hapless worker will hear is a sickening "snap".
To be honest, I don't think it's fair that someone who's dedicated their lives to a company should suddenly be facing destitution just because the company bosses made stupid decisions. That's why I support easier access to higher education, tort reform and lower taxes to make selling houses more profitable, even loopy things like moving subsidies to make it cheaper to go from one end of this country to the other in search of a job. But I do not think we should all be punished with higher prices just because factory managers and the leadership of the unionized workers refuse to face reality.
I don't say these things as some sort of pseudo-academic who's never had to face these decisions myself. I would still be in Arkansas in a radically different situation if, fifteen years ago, I had been able to find work there. The sad truth is nothing I could do was of value in Arkansas, so after wrenching and horribly disruptive events in my life I ended up (ultimately) in Northern Virginia, where I could send out twenty resumes and get five replies back per week.
If I'd had the opportunity to avoid it all, would I? Without knowing what I do now, facing those risks with no guarantee, absolutely, I would have done anything to avoid it. Am I, my family, my city, my state, my country better off because I couldn't?
The work I do now, that I never dreamed of doing fifteen years ago, helps other people. Helps them keep their family members from killing themselves. Helps others stop the demons from talking them into slashing themselves with razors. Helps them eat a pill instead of a bullet. Helps me raise a family, and buy a house, and pay my taxes.
Yes, it was terrible. Yes, there was pain. No, it wasn't fair. But am I now better off?
What do you think?