Today’s unemployment means that a large quantity of jobs have been lost. In the Harvard Business Review, Umair Haque explores the idea that the US’s quality of jobs is just as much an issue. It’s worth reading in its entirety:
Every time I buy something from your local big-box retailer, it’s not that, as protectionists and “patriots” often claim, that I’m destroying an American job. In fact, it’s worse: I just might be helping stamp out the idea that there should be jobs as we know them.
Consider: the bulk of that stuff is made, when we cut through the triumphant rhetoric of globalization, by people who are “sub(sub-sub)-contractors,” enjoying few, if any, of the benefits we associate with “jobs” — security, tenure, benefits, labor standards, etc. And, of course, when those privileges are gained, production is simply moved to countries, regions, and cities where they haven’t been.
Low quality demand, then, means that we buy cheap, but the price is invisibly steep: it ignites a global race to the bottom, what a complexity economist might call a dynamic equilibrium of negative consumption externalities, consumption that results not just in joblessness but a loss in the quality of jobs. The quality of a job is sparked by higher quality demand; or, valuing more than just the dollar price of a thing, but also its human and social impact. When we have low-quality demand, we have low-quality jobs. When we value McDonalds, the result is McJobs.
Shifting jobs to lower-wage countries is a tremendous boon to the impoverished. But it would be an even bigger boon if it weren’t a double whammy: if, sneakily, we didn’t also denude jobs of quality as they were shifted overseas; if the wage differential itself was enough, instead of exploiting a lack of governance and legislation as well; if that which makes a job more than just mere work didn’t get, ever so conveniently, lost in translation.
I think the global race to the bottom idea might only apply to the outsourcing country, not the country that is being outsourced too, which often sees an increase in quality of life.
It’s natural for economic power to move from one region to another every so often. This is what we’re seeing now with the US, a loss of economic power in favor of other countries. The question, then, is how do we mitigate our losses, stay competitive, and maintain a tolerable, if not affluent, standard of living? The effect of changing our consumption habits is worth exploring, especially since we’re such a consumer-driven economy.