To dismiss the rest of globalization’s critics as communists who hate freedom and just want to curl up in the lap of government and hide from change is absurd and insulting.

Most educated people accept and embrace the idea of an increasingly integrated world. The problem is how to go forward into the future in a way that’s fair and doesn’t increase oppression, pollution, child labor, even slavery and indenture, to say nothing of the disenfranchisement of the ex-middle class in places like America.

Globalization in the snap of a finger essentially erased nearly two centuries of America’s bloody labor history. It’s as if the Thibodeaux Massacre, the hangings of the Molly McGuires, the Pullman Strike, the L.A. Times bombing, the Flint sit-in and thousands of other strikes and confrontations never took place.

“Friedman’s glib definition of globalization goes virtually unchallenged in the pundit-o-sphere, which by and large agrees with him that critics of globalism are either racists or afraid of capitalism.”

In the new paradigm, all of those agonizing controversies and wars of political attrition, which collectively produced a vast set of rules and standards for dealing with workers, were simply wiped away.

Manufacturers just went abroad, to dictatorships and communist oligarchies, to make their products, forcing American workers to compete not just against foreign workers, but against their own history and legal systems.

People forget that when it comes to labor relations, America had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, in the direction of the civilized world. Attempts to ban child labor in this country failed repeatedly, and we didn’t actually pass a federal child labor law that stuck until 1938. Airlines in America were still firing flight attendants for getting married through the mid-eighties.

Now all that work spent to get even past those most basic problems is at risk. In the global economy, employers can look at their business models as one giant arbitrage.

You do your banking in the laissez-faire havens of the Caribbean, build factories in slave-labor capitals like China or Indonesia, buy swaps in less-regulated financial atmospheres in London, sell your products in America and Europe, etc.

You also arrange your corporate structures so that you pay the smallest amount of tax possible, often by threatening to move until you receive subsidies and exemptions. This leads to bizarre situations like Boeing making $26 billion in U.S. profits over a five-year period and receiving a U.S. federal tax refund of $401 million over the same time.

This whole situation has raised profound questions that nobody has ever bothered to try to answer for ordinary voters, as in: What are nation-states for, in a global economy?

What’s the point of all of our labor laws, or voting-rights laws, the first amendment and a host of other American legal traditions if large pluralities of American manufacturers do their business in countries like China, where human rights abuses are rampant, political freedom is nonexistent and speech is tightly controlled?

Unfettered globalization, without questioning things like the human rights of the countries you’re using your labor from, are setting back all of the gains we fought so hard for, for the rights of our own workers.

It’s time we take a step back for a second and make sure that we are making the correct moves with regards to globalization, and not just handing corporations a way to bypass all the safety rules and regulations the people fought so hard for over the past 100 years.

Source: New York Times’ Thomas Friedman Goes to the Wall – Rolling Stone

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