Friday, May 21, 2010

Simply the pursuit of wealth

Harvard economic historian David S. Landes explains vividly ("The Enterprise of Nations," Wilson Quarterly) how in the past China clung stubbornly to silly traditions and missed out on 400 years of technological and social progress. Now the Chinese have learned their lesson, unlike some even more thick-headed holdouts. In other regions, all the recent success stories are countries which, like China, have jumped bravely into the global maelstrom of ideas, money, stuff, etc. In Latin America, for example, Brazil, Chile, and - er - Columbia have "done well" (curiously, no mention of Mexico). Now some naysayers are grumbling about the loss of jobs as companies move production to more efficient locations. Take the governor of Massachussetts who had the following comment on the decision of the new owners of Polaroid to shut down the company's main factory in his state: "I think it has been fairly sinister the company has been cut apart like a stolen car at a chop shop while the employees are left holding the spare tire." To Prof. Landes, such populist rhetoric is quite misplaced. As he patently explains, "the process of job transfer ('outsourcing') is a central aspect of contemporary entrepreneurship and globalization." Well, entrepreneurs do "prefer profits to sentiments," but how can you expect them not to? Landes could have quoted here Milton Friedman who once famously stated that "the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits." The Harvard professor, though, does make clear that, with the inevitable collateral damage wrought by the whirlwind of creative destrruction, outsourcing is a natural next step in a natural process which goes back thousands of years. This process is "simply the pursuit of wealth" - case rested. Of course, we don't even need to be reminded that any attempt to somehow constrain this process (maybe using as an excuse the excesses of unregulated entrepreneurship which allegedly created the current economic mess) leads inexorably down that slippery slope, onto the road to serfdom, directly into the gulag. As it happened in that former quasi-satellite of the Soviet Union, Finland.