Don't Be Afraid of Competition

By Zinsmeister, Karl | The American Enterprise, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Don't Be Afraid of Competition

Zinsmeister, Karl, The American Enterprise

   An English princess, with Egyptian boyfriend,
   riding in a German car powered by a Dutch engine
   driven by a Belgian tippling on Scottish whiskey,
   is chased by Italian paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles
   and crashes in a French tunnel. She is treated by
   a U.S. doctor using Brazilian medicines. She dies.

It's true: was KILLED BY GLOBALIZATION! Recently, a fascinating menagerie of capitalism-haters, xenophobes, union die-hards, enviro-radicals, cultural reactionaries, and Massachusetts senators have been proclaiming the evils of globalization (which is just a $50 word to describe the fact that the entire world is becoming one big interlinked market). Armed with the shocking facts I've assembled above, enraged activists should be able to lever enough sympathetic coverage out of Barbara Wakers, Mike Wallace, the New York Times, the National Enquirer, etc. to expand the anti-globalization crusade even further. If the masses who dropped Teddy Bears on Diana's grave can be mobilized, then maybe the Benedict Arnolds and sweat shoppers and downsizing demons who are ruining America (after outsourcing the Princess of Wales to the Elysian fields) will FINALLY BE STOPPED!

Of course, one could draw a different conclusion from the international nature of Diana's last fling. One might say that globalization is now so woven into our lives as to be simply a bedrock fact of modern existence. The availability of cappuccino in Missouri convenience stores, imported Cadillacs rushing past Lenin's tomb on the streets of Moscow, men with names like Ichiro leading off our baseball games, the migration of spring break from Ft. Lauderdale to Mexico--these things are now as permanent and irreversible as the disappearance of whalers, bare-breasted maidens, and head hunters from the South Pacific. You may love the change, you may mourn it. But there's no use in picketing. Life moves forward.

And today, changes occur more rapidly than at any time in the past. I will be the first to admit this can sometimes be disorienting. I was a little taken aback when I picked up a tube of good-old Crest toothpaste from my sinktop last year, started to read the label, and found the words "Made in Mexico." O.K., we all recognize that labor-intensive products like blue jeans or green beans may be less expensive to produce in a place like Mexico. But toothpaste? I imagine that mixing the mint,/stuff and injecting it into plastic sleeves has been a low-labor, highly mechanized process for decades. How could it possibly be more efficient for Procter and Gamble to move everything south of the border, let the machines run there, then truck the heavy tubes all the way to me in upstate New York? I scoffed at this for a day or two. And then I just let it go. I've got to assume there is some advantage in doing business that way--or else nobody would have gone to the trouble to set it up. Why battle the natural economic breezes? This issue of The American Enterprise features an interview with Fred Smith, the man who dreamed up FedEx and the overnight delivery business that is now such an important part of our lives. In one of his many memorable declarations, Smith has said of his company that "We are the clipper ships of the computer age." That's exactly right. Now, anyone who has seen a schooner under full sail might miss the romance of the sea merchants. But they did exactly what FedEx does today, only less reliably and a lot more slowly. The Flying Cloud was fine for importing tea, but try waiting on it to deliver blood you badly need for a transfusion.

The undeniable reality is that most of the economic transformations which dizzy us today also leave us better off-dramatically so over the long run. There are something like 25,000 different items in the inventory of an average supermarket these days. I ate lots of grapes this winter; I have no idea what country they came from, but I'm sure they weren't grown in New York. …

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