Commentary

Outsourced jobs head South

New York has lost a luxury fabric company. Virginia Postrel explains: [O]ld-fashioned looms in Queens are being replaced by computerized looms in some place called South Carolina, where workers make ridiculously low pay. The CEO of the company is clearly motivated by the same forces that move jobs oversees. He says, in South Carolina “you have lower overhead, lower taxes, lower occupancy costs, lower labor costs, lower everything,” Is he a Benedict Arnold CEO? Should we limit interstate outsourcing? Would lower taxes have kept the company in New York? Postrel points out that news accounts typically show only half the story: “technological progress plus geographical mobility equals cultural loss.” Here’s a California case in point. This time the product isn’t fabric, but asparagus: The California asparagus industry, which grows 80% of the nation’s fresh asparagus, is in crisis, upended by the gales of global trade. After a string of money-losing harvests, farmers have slashed acreage by a third in the last three years, from 36,000 acres to 24,000, and there is no end in sight. Families that have been growing asparagus for four generations are facing the possibility they may have to get out of the business altogether. A historic piece of California’s farming culture is slipping away. Unlike government expansion, trade expansion will always be a tough sell. Government benefits from concentrated benefits and dispersed costs, while trade suffers in the public debate because it offers just the opposite: concentrated costs and dispersed benefits. It’s tough to craft a news article or TV spot around those who benefit from an efficient market. Often the efficiency gain-job growth link is subtle, and difficult to track. People usually know when they’re hurt by competition, but they rarely know when they’re helped by it.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.