With globalization shaping up to be the next political showdown, Walter Russell Mead’s argument that progressives shouldn’t fight the global economy at every turn struck quite a chord. Responses ranged from accusations of apostasy to cautious praise. Plus: Mead responds; bitter pills; the land of milk and dioxins.
Shame on Walter Russell Mead—and Mother Jones. At a time when bipartisan opposition to President Clinton’s flawed international trade policies is growing in Congress, it is shocking to find progressive intellectual leaders hallucinating about opportunities in the new world economic order (“The New Global Economy Takes Your Order,” March/April).
Mead claims that the industrial and unskilled jobs “most vulnerable” to foreign competition have largely been lost. Rubbish. Millions of American workers remain vulnerable to surging imports. The Economic Policy Institute recently concluded that the Asian crisis is likely to increase America’s merchandise trade deficit from nearly $200 billion in 1997 to $300 billion within 24 months. If so, the U.S. will lose from 700,000 to 1.5 million good-paying jobs in manufacturing and other tradable-goods industries.
If tax cuts and education were the remedies for the social disruption that accompanies globalization, the problems would have vanished long ago. They endure in significant part because our leaders assign a higher priority to providing leadership to the international system than to fulfilling the American Dream at home. Presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton have presumed that America has a special responsibility to act as the importer and lender of last resort. In practice, this one-sided policy is responsible for $1.5 trillion in current account deficits over the last 15 years and has disrupted the lives of millions of American families.
ALFRED E. ECKES
U.S. International Trade Commission
I ENDORSE TWO basic points in Mead’s article. First, progressives should not fight against globalization. Its negative consequences in terms of social dislocation have already been felt, and international openness can only benefit the U.S. as a whole. Second, the American economy is already a service economy; lamenting the loss of manufacturing jobs is unproductive. Where I demur, however, is Mead’s assertion that the service economy has been good for the left.
The past 15 years have seen a harsh trade-off in the service economy between equality and employment. The European model is to maintain high-paying jobs and generous public services, but at the expense of long-term unemployment. The American model maintains full employment, but at the expense of massive material inequality.
The reason for this trade-off is clear: Most service economy employment is in low-skill, low-productivity industries. There are more junk jobs in burger flipping than there are for software engineers. How can more employment and more equality be achieved simultaneously? First, efforts to liberalize the international economy should be unstinting—this can only create more demand for high-tech service exports from the U.S. Opposing the president’s fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals was clearly a mistake. On the other hand, as Robert Reich is fond of telling us, the government must invest heavily in providing sufficient education and training so that more people can take advantage of the opportunities created by booming high-tech services. (This was the Clinton agenda for a fleeting moment in early 1993 before the president embraced the “vital center.”) Progressives must lay the groundwork to build an American electorate that accepts what is essentially a European social democratic model of the political economy.
An America that provides a strong “welfare state” (one that embraces public education, public health care, and public daycare) would not only mitigate the problems that threaten to undermine social stability, it would also help the U.S. compete in global markets. Perhaps the most important lesson progressives in this country must learn is that globalization and smart, activist government are not on a collision course; they are mutually reinforcing.
Professor of Political Science
New Haven, Conn.
MEAD HAS WRITTEN a vivid account of our economic future in his usual perceptive style. The new economy he describes is not without good features. But it is an extremely unequal economy, dominated by the techno-elite. And grossly unequal societies are rarely stable or enduringly democratic. Mead points to the basic solution, which is to strengthen the political power of low-wage workers. But the most important single factor is a government economic policy dedicated to steady economic growth and full employment, including a monetary policy that maintains low, stable interest rates and responds promptly to the threat of a crisis like the one we now see coming from Asia. Here I think Mead misses something vital: He does not share with us what the policies of the Federal Reserve should be in order to produce the sustained growth and full employment on which his forecasts rely. The actions of Alan Greenspan and his colleagues are critical, and all who share Mead’s hopes should keep them prominently in view.
JAMES K. GALBRAITH
LBJ School of Public Affairs
University of Texas
CHANGING ECONOMIC TRENDS may indeed provide new opportunities for progressive change, but only if we are prepared for bold action to make the best of those opportunities. What worries me about Mead’s notion of “a left-leaning economy” is the suggestion that the economy itself will make good things happen.
No left-leaning economy will save us. Only by rolling up our sleeves and changing the way we do things can working families regain security and dignity. Targeted tax incentives and tight labor markets alone aren’t enough. We must rebuild the institutional infrastructure—bigger unions and stronger labor standards. Without it, wage improvements will be fleeting and spotty, and won’t reach those who need them the most.
ANDREW L. STERN
Service Employees International Union
IN TERMS OF global awareness of human welfare and ecological quality, Mead could hardly have taken a more parochial American viewpoint. Yes, moving toward a service economy may improve the environment in those highly developed economies that import more goods than they manufacture. But the problems associated with industrialism haven’t disappeared; they’ve simply moved to less developed countries, along with the factories. Are Americans to ignore Nike’s sweatshops because they aren’t located in the U.S.A.?
PAUL W. REA
MEAD REFLECTS A common misconception about the new computer economy when he states that good service jobs will decline.
In a so-called information age, information actually loses value because it is widely accessible to almost everyone. What increasingly matters is how one uses that information. This demands the one human characteristic that computers cannot duplicate: creative reason.
Indeed, the demand for such creative reason has already soared. As a new study by the Educational Testing Service has discovered, the great source of new jobs is now in the front office. Members of the “office economy”—business executives, upscale sales representatives, consultants, communications experts, designers, and marketing experts—now account for nearly 41 percent of all jobs.
Unfortunately, the computer revolution won’t produce a productivity boom. The gain in output-per-hour-of-work still limps along. The new economy requires much more human input and more hours of work than a mass production economy of standardized products did. The upshot? Interesting jobs will be created. It will require a college degree to get them. But overall pay won’t rise, because productivity will continue to grow slowly.
Author, The End of Affluence
New York, N.Y.
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD responds:
With Alfred Eckes, I hardly know where to begin. The “bipartisan opposition” to Clinton’s trade policies that Eckes hails excites him more than it does me; when I think of new bedfellows, my fancy doesn’t immediately turn to Pat Buchanan.
The Asian downturn may well, as Eckes warns, lead to a larger trade deficit and to job losses in the immediate future. I am not for those things. I am sorry they are happening, and for more than a decade I have been writing about the danger that globalization poses to American workers. But whatever Eckes—or I—thinks about it, job flight is unlikely to be the linchpin of a new progressive politics. The issue won’t disappear, but it won’t transform American politics.
Geoffrey Garrett and I agree that opposition to globalization is a dead end for the left. But unfortunately some of the principal obstacles to a stable free-trade system don’t come from the left; they come from the flawed globalization model that dominates establishment thinking. Labor rights and environmental standards aren’t obstacles to globalization; they are important building blocks of the stable and durable system of international free trade that people everywhere need.
That is why the “left-leaning economy” that Andrew Stern worries about gives us a historic opportunity (though it remains to be seen what we will do with it). Stern, of course, is right: Unless people take advantage of the opportunity, nothing will happen.
Jeffrey Madrick seems to think that we disagree about the computer revolution. We don’t. The conviction that computers will ultimately create more and better jobs is central to my article.
SORRY, IT WAS WISHFUL THINKING
A decline in lawyers? I think not. The people who use WillMaker software are in no way the people responsible for the millions of dollars in billings generated by mega law firms. I’m a legal secretary at one in New York, where starting salaries for first-year associates are now $94,000, and there are barely enough attorneys to handle the litigation, offerings, mergers, etc.
The future for lawyers never looked better than it does now.
New York, N.Y.
NOT TO MENTION THE BRIDGE TRAFFIC
Tut-tuts seem in order for editor Jeffrey Klein, who drives to work in San Francisco from the East Bay (Editor’s Note, March/April). Mother Jones’ office is a two-minute walk from a Bay Area Rapid Transit station.
ALICE IN CHAINS
Michael Lind’s allegory of our winner-takes-all electoral process is right on the mark (“Alice Doesn’t Vote Here Anymore,” March/April).
Even as we witness the most costly campaigns in history, civic apathy abounds. Voters choose not to become stakeholders in our common enterprise because elections are pointless.
Why? As Justice John Paul Stevens put it in a recent dissent, political gerrymandering means that politicians in state legislatures are protecting themselves, rather than the interests of their constituents. Multimember districts and proportional representation could restore competition and prevent a system where, as a federal court in Texas found (speaking of a redistricting plan), “the final result seems not one in which the people select their representatives, but in which the representatives have selected the people.”
Proportional representation has been used in all but three of the world’s major democracies. If adopted here, we could begin to hear new voices in the public arena. It would reinvigorate an electoral process that has become unresponsive to our nation’s needs.
JOHN B. ANDERSON
Visiting Professor of Law
Nova Southeastern University
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
LIND’S QUICK-WITTED Alice might make one additional point: Proportional representation could help her govern Wonderland one day.
Despite a historic high in women’s candidacies in the 1996 House elections, the growth of women in state legislatures and Congress has stalled. Women make up less than 12 percent of Congress, far lower than in legislative bodies in other nations with comparable women’s movements.
Women already are more likely to win state legislative seats in multiseat districts than in one-seat districts, and proportional representation provides additional leverage to force parties to support women candidates. In 1994, a threat by women in Sweden to form a women’s party led to the recruitment of more women candidates by the major parties; women now hold 41 percent of seats in the Swedish parliament.
New Zealand, Italy, and Germany have a mix of winner-takes-all districts and proportional representation seats; women in these nations are three times more likely to be elected by proportional representation than by a winner-takes-all system. Imagine if women’s share of Congress went from one-ninth to one-third. The Queen of Hearts herself might lose her head at the prospect.
Center for Voting and Democracy
I REPRESENT SOUTH Carolina’s 6th Congressional District, a gerrymandered black-majority district. Its creation allowed South Carolinians to elect their first African American congressman in this century. But the district was drawn far beyond what was necessary for blacks to maximize their choices. By stacking over 61 percent of the district with blacks, the plan virtually guarantees black representation, but significantly dilutes black political influence.
The best alternative to resolve this dilemma would be to institute proportional representation. In 1995 I co-sponsored Rep. Cynthia McKinney’s (D-Ga.) Voters’ Choice Act, which would enable states to use proportional voting methods for House elections. However, the likelihood of it passing anytime soon is negligible at best.
I join Michael Lind in urging those living in states that allow ballot initiatives to start grassroots efforts in support of proportional voting. Developing a record at county, municipal, and school board elections offers the best opportunity we have to begin the creation of an electoral system that is truly representative.
REP. JAMES E. CLYBURN (D-S.C.)
THE DOCTOR IS INCENSED
As a practicing emergency physician, I was more than a little annoyed at Michael Castleman’s simpleminded physician-bashing column concerning the overuse of antibiotics (“Cold Comfort,” March/April).
Castleman accurately states that there is a rapid development of bacterial resistance to anti-microbials, and then lays the blame at the feet of the American doctors who “are trained that there’s a pill for every ill (or there should be).” Aside from the fact that Castleman clearly hasn’t a clue about what we physicians are taught in our years of medical training, he gives little, if any, attention to the myriad of other influences at play when someone has decided that his or her illness is serious enough to warrant a visit to the doctor.
In the emergency medicine business, I’ve found that some patients have expectations that are very difficult to challenge: “Obviously, since I’ve been coughing for three days and I’ve had a fever, I have pneumonia, I need an X-ray, and I need antibiotics.” My explanations to the contrary are more or less politely received. The next day, I usually find out they’ve gone to their primary doctor demanding the X-rays and antibiotics that the idiot ER doctor refused to provide.
Yes, I have given in to such requests in the past, and will probably do so again in the future—not because I’m afraid of lawyers or because I’m one of Castleman’s “knee-jerk” doctors who can’t be bothered to try to educate his patients, but because I’m human.
One-sided, finger-pointing articles such as Castleman’s obscure a deeper concern: that, as a society, we have adopted a quick-fix mentality toward illness. Isolating doctors as the perpetrators of this mentality ignores the fact that a majority of us do indeed care about the whole person, and that we try to integrate alternative approaches to medical care. Confrontational and accusatory postures such as Castleman’s only make that integration more difficult.
MARK WINSBERG, M.D.
BACTERIAL RESISTANCE TO antibiotics is an increasing problem, but inappropriate prescribing by physicians is only one part of it.
Castleman neglected the misuse of prescription antibiotics. Many people stop taking their antibiotics as soon as they feel better, or take one or two doses of a leftover prescription or someone else’s prescription when they start to feel ill. Both of these practices lead to increased resistance, because smaller amounts and shorter courses allow bacteria to develop resistance to the antibiotic.
EMILY K. BEAMER, M.D.
Forest Park, Ill.
MICHAEL CASTLEMAN responds:
I feel for busy doctors (my wife is one). Having lived through medical school and residency with my wife, I also believe I have a decent feel for the rigors of medical education. Dr. Winsberg says it’s only human to give in occasionally when people ask for antibiotics they don’t need. But the studies cited in my column showed that doctors give in more than half the time. It is not doctor-bashing to criticize this.
Overuse of antibiotics has become a serious threat to public health. Investigators with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (doctors themselves) have expressed “alarm” over physicians’ apparent inability to prescribe antibiotics anywhere near appropriately. Approximately one-third of the nation’s antibiotic prescriptions are written for viral conditions that antibiotics are powerless to treat. If doctors don’t stop doling out antibiotics like Halloween candy, we may wind up powerless to treat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Yes, my column criticized doctors, but it mostly took the public to task for demanding antibiotics for colds and flu. I urged readers not to visit doctors for uncomplicated upper respiratory infections until they’d had symptoms for at least two weeks. I stand by that. Public health begins at home.
Editor’s note: The following letters are a sampling of the enormous volume of mail—all negative—we received in response to environmental scientist Theo Colborn’s answer to a question about the possible danger of infants being exposed to dioxins through breast-feeding (Visions, March/April). For the record, here is how Colborn answered the question: “We don’t have enough evidence yet. But I’ll tell you quite frankly that I would not want to have to make the decision myself today. It appears that breast-feeding strengthens a baby’s immune system, but we also wonder how these chemicals might be interfering with immune competency in these children. So far, the benefits seem to outweigh the risks, but we just don’t know.”
I WAS DISMAYED that you ran an interview with Theo Colborn in which she says that it isn’t clear whether breast-feeding is doing more harm than good.
Human milk has ingredients that go way beyond our current level of understanding. And not one shred of evidence exists to make the claim that “we just don’t know.”
Yes, children are exposed to toxins from many sources, but what do you propose to feed them instead, cow milk formula? Even soy formulas contain much higher levels of toxins than breast milk, without providing any immune system benefits to the child at all. And even if you could produce a pristine, toxin-free formula, how can you neglect the health deficits that are so well documented in babies fed from formulas?
ANNE E. ROBB
YOUR INTERVIEW WITH Theo Colborn must have slipped through a few cracks in your editing department. I have been a Mother Jones reader for years, and I am just flabbergasted that you would print something as irresponsible as Colborn’s absurdly unscientific remarks on breast-feeding.
Colborn is a scientist. She has a responsibility to refrain from statements like “I would not want to have to make [that] decision myself today” and “we don’t have enough evidence yet.” Statements like that make intelligent readers close the magazine and say, “What a quack!”
Ann Arbor, Mich.
THE FOLLOWING POINT might help Colborn see the forest rather than the dioxin tree: Although humans are farther up the food chain, cows and soybeans do not live in an environmental vacuum. There is ample evidence showing that breast milk, with whatever dioxins it contains, is still physiologically superior to formula.
An understanding of the more subtle issues is certainly important, but not at the expense of the big picture.
Not all of your readers are so fascinated with Microsoft, trade agreements, and the like. Many of us don’t even own a laptop.
Have you ever thought of writing about ordinary folk out there in the U.S.—the run-of-the-mill lefties working for peace, justice, and equality? If memory serves me, you once spent a lot of time on those people. Or have you now decided to focus exclusively on a “power elite” of one sort or another?
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