Commentary | Unions and Labor Standards

Dodging the Question

Opinion pieces and speeches by EPI staff and associates.


Dodging the Question

By  Jeff Faux

Brad DeLong brings us the startling news that there are a lot of poor people in China, that the Chinese rich are not as wealthy as Bill Gates, and that incomes are up since the cultural revolution. Wow! Stop the presses!

What does this have to do with my proposition that we need social protections in the rules of globalization? Nothing. It is a red herring to divert discussion away from the ways in which the globalizing economy creates an upward redistribution of income, wealth and political power — and to stop the conversation about how to change that.

DeLong’s response to my point about the growing class structure in China is to guess that there are 200 rich people in China, whose income, if you divide it among a billion Chinese, doesn’t go all that far. This is supposed to prove that economic classes don’t matter. Simple arithmetic, he says. Simple-minded is more like it.

Brad Delong cannot get that the fundamental issue is not simple trade between sovereign nations of economics 101, which I suppose is why he doesn’t want to engage in the more important question of how we govern the global economy. For those whose stereotype of Jeff Faux blinds them to what I’ve actually written, check out Josh Bivens’s post.

Here’s the point. If you believe that economies have to be regulated to prevent excessive exploitation and inequality. And if you believe – as the first head of the WTO put it — that modern trade agreements are “writing the constitution of a single global economy” then on what moral basis do you denounce any effort to put enforceable social regulation into the rules of the global marketplace?

On the question of class and power, DeLong is over his head. He doesn’t dispute that a global economy is creating a class structure that reaches beyond borders, or that in their own words, the large corporate investors who most influence American economic policy no longer consider themselves American. He simply ignores these issues. In his world of free-market fundamentalism, there are no sweat shops, money doesn’t influence economic policy, and people don’t get murdered for trying to organize a union.

Having run out of arguments, DeLong downshifts to ad hominem attacks, calling me “nationalistic…China-bashing…” And, finally, racist: “drum-beating about the threat from powerful, different-looking people from across the ocean.” Very incisive rebuttals, professor.

Then, this: “But when Jeff Faux rolls into town, he does not do so with a scream-and-leap attack on governors and legislatures who won’t fund expanded community colleges or presidents who love tax cuts for the rich or senators who won’t fund Medicaid at current levels.”

I don’t know how many anti-poverty marches, picket lines or battles with right-political thugs Brad DeLong has been in, but I’ll match my record on “screaming and leaping” for social justice in America against his any time.

Now, would anyone like to have a serious conversation about how we govern the global economy?

Jeff Faux is the founder and a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.


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