Offshoring has destroyed the economy

Tradable jobs are jobs that produce goods and services that can be exported and thus can be produced in locations distant from their market. Tradable jobs result in higher value-added and, thereby, higher pay than most non-tradable jobs.

When a country’s tradable goods and services are converted by offshoring into its imports, it is thrown back on low-productivity domestic service jobs for its employment. These domestic service jobs, except for dentists, lawyers, teachers, and medical doctors, do not require a university education. Yet, America has thousands of universities and colleges, and the government endlessly repeats the mantra that “education is the answer.”

But with engineering, design, and research jobs offshored, and with many of the jobs that remain within the US filled by foreigners on HB-1 and L-1 visas, we now have the phenomenon of American university and college graduates, heavily indebted with student loans, jobless, and living with their parents, who support them.

Spence also acknowledges that the change in the structure of American employment from higher productivity to lower productivity jobs is the reason both for the stagnation in US consumer income and for the rising inequality of income. Sending middle class jobs abroad raised the earnings of capital. Spence understands that the lack of growth in consumer income has resulted in a shortfall in domestic demand, resulting in high unemployment.  He could have added that jobs offshoring also gave us the Federal Reserve’s policy of pumping up consumer debt as a substitute for the missing growth in consumer income. There is an obvious limit to the ability to maintain the growth of consumer demand via the growth of indebtedness.

The offshored economy is the “New Economy,” which the “free trade” hirelings of Wall Street and the global corporations invented in order to pay, with grants from the offshoring corporations, for their summer homes in the Hamptons.

As a graduate student in economics, I was fortunate to study with a number of professors who had or were subsequently awarded Nobel Prizes. Among these creative people there are two economists whom I did not study under, but whose work I have read, and whose work is of great importance to our economic prospects. The two most important economists of our time, who, without any doubt, deserve the Nobel Prize are Ralph Gomory and Herman Daly.

Ralph Gomory’s book, “Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests,” coauthored with William J. Baumol, a past president of the American Economics Association, is the most important work in trade theory ever produced. This book, and subsequent papers by Gomory, prove beyond all doubt that the free trade theory set out by David Ricardo at the beginning of the 19th century is merely a special case, not a general theory.

Economists learn in their graduate courses that free trade is an unchallengeable doctrine and that only ignorant protectionists dispute the theory. This mindset was sufficient for Gomory’s book to be largely ignored, even though Paul Samuelson, the dean of American economics, acknowledged the critical point that there are situations in which free trade is not mutually beneficial.

The other deserving recipient of the Nobel Prize is Herman Daly.  On the trade issue, Daly’s point is different from and less revolutionary than Gomory’s.  Daly makes the same point that I make, which is that the classic theory of free trade is based on comparative advantage, not on absolute advantage, and that offshoring is based on absolute advantage. Thus, offshoring is not free trade.

Daly’s revolutionary contribution to economics comes from his realization that the production function that is the basis of economic science is wrong.

This production function is known as the Solow-Stiglitz production function. This production function assumes that man-made capital is a substitute for nature’s capital. It follows from this assumption that whatever humans do to use up and destroy the natural environment can be overcome by the resourcefulness of science and technology.

Daly shows that this reasoning is incorrect.  If the Gulf of Mexico is destroyed by fertilizer run-offs from agri-business and by oil spills, only nature can correct the problem after many years measured in decades or centuries.  In the meantime, humans are without the resource.

Daly’s argument is brilliant in its simplicity.  In former times, nature’s capital was enormous, and man’s reproducible capital was small.  For example, fish in the oceans were plentiful, but fishing boats were not. Today fishing boats are in excess supply, but ocean fishing stocks are depleted. Thus, the limiting factor is not man-made capital, but nature’s capital. Daly stresses that by leaving ecological and social costs out of the computation of GDP, economists do not have a reliable measure of the effect of economic activity on human welfare.

All of economics is predicated on the notion that resources are inexhaustible, and that the only challenge is to use them most efficiently. But if resources are not inexhaustible and cannot be replicated by human capital, the world economy is being ruthlessly exploited to its detriment and to the detriment of life on earth.

Thanks to Bush/Cheney/Obama and the wars for military/security profits, we might not last long enough to test Daly’s hypothesis. As American hegemony confronts both China and Russia, hubris can rid the planet of humans before nature does.

To find a Nobel prize-winner documenting the high cost of globalism to developed economies is extraordinary. For the Council on Foreign Relations to publish it suggests that the Establishment, or some part of it, suspects that its hubris has run away with its fortunes, and that different thinking is needed to restore the US economy.

We must hope that Spence’s paper will encourage thought.  On the other hand, the bought-and-paid-for-economists will confront Spence with their fantasies that the US would be enjoying full employment if only government did not discourage employment with unemployment compensation, food stamps, income support programs, unions, minimum wages, and regulation.

Recently, yet another high-level warning came from the International Monetary Fund.  The IMF report said that the US economy has been seriously eroded and that the age of America is over.

Will the US business and economic establishments heed these warnings, or will the US become a third world country as I predicted at the beginning of this century?