Workers of the World, Good Luck
Several months ago now I read the results of a survey of Harvard Business School alumni that continues to be relevant today, even as the unemployment rate ticks down and the presidential race comes to a head. According to the report, alumni see the U.S. economy as falling behind emerging economies like China, India and Brazil; meanwhile, a majority of companies contemplating relocation outside of the United States winds up doing just that. A paltry minority of those same companies (@10 percent) decides to stay; the rest are still mulling it over. Respondents suggested that the United States could improve its reputation and retain these prodigal companies through high-level efforts like improving education and simplifying the tax code. Maybe it's a prejudice I have against giant corporations, but I have the sneaking suspicion that these companies are distracting us from the reality that, according to our measures of what constitutes a living wage, most of the world is mired in economic injustice. People vote with their feet, and so we should listen to what the feet have to say:
Among respondents who had decided to move operations out of the United States over the past year, 70 percent cited lower wages as the reason they chose a new location, pointing to what is widely seen as emerging markets' main advantage.The world doesn't have a class problem; it increasingly has a caste problem, as emerging economies assert themselves on the strength of disenfranchised workers and as the underclass in the United States and other fading economies are being made permanent. All this while, from my limited vantage point, Western labor unions seem to concentrate on agitating not for decent wages and working conditions for all workers everywhere but for a bigger piece of the pie they've colluded with management to bake--bigger, less sustainable pensions and the like. Recent and highly publicized labor disputes have not focused on solidarity so much as singularity: This is what we, the union in question, want; and you, the management in question, will give it to us. Not to paint the entire labor movement with too broad a brush, but my sense is that it's grown myopic as it's become mainstreamed in the American economy. The mantra of the labor movement was, at one time, "Workers of the world, unite!" From where I sit, it seems to have become something closer to "Workers of the world, good luck!"