The church of global free trade, which rules American politics with infallible pretensions, may have finally met its Martin Luther. An unlikely dissenter has come forward with a revised understanding of globalization that argues for thorough reformation. This man knows the global trading system from the inside because he is a respected veteran of multinational business. His ideas contain an explosive message: that what established authorities teach Americans about global trade is simply wrong--disastrously wrong for the United States.
I think this guy deserves our support. After all, merely getting them to admit that there's a problem is just the first step. And I think he's found a way of describing what the man on the street can sense, in terms that those in the halls of power can understand.
More tidbits from the article, after the bump.
Now Gomory is attempting to re-educate the politicians in Congress. He has gained greater visibility lately because he has been joined by a group of similarly concerned corporate executives called the Horizon Project. Its leader, Leo Hindery, former CEO of the largest US cable company and a player in Democratic politics, shares Gomory's foreboding about the destructive impact of globalization on American prosperity. Huge losses are ahead--10 million jobs or more--and Hindery fears time is running out on reform.
"We want to be a counter to the Hamilton Project," Hindery explains. "They have a sense of stasis that is more benign than I have. I don't think this is all going to work out." The Hamilton policy group was launched last year by former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to make sure the laissez-faire trade doctrine known as Rubinomics continues to dominate the Democratic Party. "We're never going to have the status of Bob Rubin," Hindery concedes. "But we're not chopped liver either. We have respectable business careers. You can't tell Ralph Gomory that he is 'smoke and mirrors,' because he wrote the book."
Gomory's critique has great political potential because it provides what the opponents of corporate-led globalization have generally lacked: a comprehensive intellectual platform for arguing that the US approach to globalization must be transformed to defend the national interest. Still, it will take politicians of courage to embrace his ideas and act on them. Gomory's political solutions are as heretical as his economic analysis.
The article talks about how Gomory saw the massive shift of manufacturing as it happened, and once the Asian countries began to compete with us on high-value goods like electronics he became very concerned about the impact on our national interest. With the help of respected economist William Baumol, he wrote Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests to argue in economist-friendly terms how unrestricted free trade does not account for everything that actually happens. He talks about how incentives that are supposedly virtuous can lead to perverse consequences as the poorer country builds itself up -- especially if the poorer country makes growth-encouraging policy choices without an appropriate reaction by the richer country:
American multinationals, as principal actors in this transfer of wealth-generating productive capacity, are distinctively free to make the decisions for themselves without interference from government. They want profit and future consumer markets. Their home country wants to maintain a highly productive high-wage economy. Without recognizing it, the two are pulling in opposite directions--the "divergence of interests" most US politicians ignore, evidently believing church doctrine over visible reality.
From the article, it's clear that Gomory feels you shouldn't tell the American public unrestricted free trade is going to make them richer if it isn't actually true. Fortunately, his recommendations can be implemented in a way that corporations might actually be able to live with:
Essentially, Gomory proposes to alter the profit incentives of US multinationals. If the government adds rules of behavior and enforces them through the tax code, companies will be compelled to seek profit in a different way--by adhering to the national interest and terms set by the US government. Other nations do this in various ways. Only the United States imagines the national interest doesn't require it.
Lastly, let me leave you with this bit from the conclusion of the article. If there's any hope for our country, then this is something that all of us -- left, right, and center -- should be able to agree on:
Gomory's vision of reformation actually goes beyond the trading system and America's economic deterioration. He wants to re-create an understanding of the corporation's obligations to society, the social perspective that flourished for a time in the last century but is now nearly extinct. The old idea was that the corporation is a trust, not only for shareholders but for the benefit of the country, the employees and the people who use the product. "That attitude was the attitude I grew up on in IBM," Gomory explains. "That's the way we thought--good for the country, good for the people, good for the shareholders--and I hope we will get back to it.... We should measure corporations by their impact on all their constituencies.