Likelihood of Success

Ron Coleman’s pretty good blog

Not just the fattest

Posted by Ron Coleman on September 2, 2007

Smokestack industries are an odd topic for romance. But, like railroads, no matter how irrelevant they become to a sophisticated national economy, some folks just can’t get them out of their heart. They can’t believe that we can flourish, indeed grow wealthy, if all the heavy stuff is being shipped here in containers instead of being manufactured by our own American brethren. On the left, meanwhile, the evaporation of manufacturing in the US mean the loss of union dues that gofeeding-gargantua.jpg mainly into the coffers of Democratic politicians; thus it is frequently juxtaposed, rhetorically, with the disgusting fact that Murricans use such a shockingly disproportionate ratio of molecules for drivin’, eatin’ and just ol’ livin’.

So what do when the International Labor Organization in Geneva — hey, that’s Europe! The home of the Global Test! — says there’s a darned good reason we consume such a large percentage of the world’s resources: We do a darned good job with it:

American workers stay longer in the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations, and they produce more per person over the year.

They also get more done per hour than everyone but the Norwegians, according to a U.N. report released Monday, which said the United States “leads the world in labor productivity.”

And we’re gunning for those Norwegians, too. More:

Only part of the U.S. productivity growth, which has outpaced that of many other developed economies, can be explained by the longer hours Americans are putting in, the ILO said.

The U.S., according to the report, also beats all 27 nations in the European Union, Japan and Switzerland in the amount of wealth created per hour of work a second key measure of productivity.

But where are all the lunchboxes and hardhats? Toxic dirt, industrial maimings and blighted landscapes? How can we be producing so much wealth if the Mexicans are building our cars and the Chinese are building everything else? Well, it’s not so simple. It’s called comparative advantage — the idea is that if everyone does what he does best, everyone benefits from an open system of trade. Both the theory and the facts bear this out. (I wish Laura Ingram would look into this, too, for the next time she has her NAFTA-bashing fraud Jerome Corsi on her show — maybe she can ask him some tough questions and avoid becoming the female Pat Buchanan on trade.) It makes everyone richer in the long run, even if some people have to adjust their expectations and their career paths, and even if millionaires such as Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen find the plights of displaced factory workers inspiringly heartrending and the plights of foreigners who wouldn’t have jobs without free trade, and families who couldn’t afford union-manufactured goods, irrelevant.

In contrast, history proves that the alternative, high tariffs and protectionism, make all but a few — and, in the long run, pretty much everyone — a lot poorer. On the other hand, that’s good for Bruce and for Jerome Corsi, too — more material. Meanwhile, though, hopefully they’ll noisily fume, generating wealth in the process for themselves and others, and we’ll all keep being more productive, more free. Perhaps we’ll watch our appetites a bit, too, if only as a matter of dignity, taste and healthful habits.

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2 Responses to “Not just the fattest”

  1. Jack said

    I like that picture of Gargantua.

    I wish I had drawn it.

  2. That’s an interesting reaction to a picture you like, Jack.

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