The savants and pundits keep telling us that if we educate ourselves for the new high tech world, become lifelong learners, good jobs will be bountiful. New York Times columnist, and techno-fantasist, Thomas Friedman is one of the gurus here. He preaches against what he calls Wall People, people who want to hold back the tides of change, of progress. He passionately favors Web People, who bravely stare down the future and say, Bring It On. (Presumably as they man up to surf the internet.)
As such, the instinct of Web People is to embrace the change in the pace of change and focus on empowering more people to be able to compete and collaborate in a world without walls. In particular, Web People understand that in times of rapid change, open systems are always more flexible, resilient and propulsive; they offer the chance to feel and respond first to change. So Web People favor more trade expansion, along the lines of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and more managed immigration that attracts the most energetic and smartest minds, and more vehicles for lifelong learning. “Web People vs. Wall People”
Yes, more free trade, more lifelong learning (incremental skill building), more effort at attracting energetic minds. . . . These will certainly help us with those pesky little problems courtesy of globalization: rampant inequality, exploitation (multiple kinds), loss of privacy, anomie, etc.* And if you don’t get with the program, don’t keep educating yourself properly: hey, you have nothing and no one to blame but yourself. You didn’t follow the rules of the new high-tech globalization game. Skill build forever or die.
Small problem. Globalization isn’t new. Its dynamics are not new. And its problems are not new. And “education,” skill building, as a solution is not new. As a matter of fact, we are still sailing the dark winds that blew in from the 19th century, when global capitalism was really taking off. Here are words written in 1848, describing how the bourgeoisie and their mode of production, capitalism, spreads throughout the world. No high tech needed, although the latter certainly helps to accelerate the contagion.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.
The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.
. . . . It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image. Communist Manifesto, 1848, Marx and Engels
Yes, it seems that in spite of his errors, Marx got this one right. There is no stopping globalization under capitalism. Its spread isn’t unique to 21st century capitalism or high tech. As a matter of fact, consumer high tech is a result of capitalism’s own internal logic: Must sell more products. Must create new products. Must keep costs low and profits high. Must use less expensive workers and open up more markets. Not complicated, really.
Guru Friedman’s “let’s keep educating everyone” scenario simply won’t cut it, because the logic of the system requires that we have low wage workers, as well as a statistically significant number of unemployed. Even if those low wage workers are in foreign lands, in an increasingly global market they will depress wages at home, especially without good unions to fight back. And it’s something of a crap shoot whether any one of us, or our kids, ends up a winner or a loser. (Magic wand waved: everyone now has a college degree instead of a high school diploma—do you think this will improve the bottom line for most Americans? Or will it just shuffle the chairs on the Titanic?) If we don’t find a way to address accelerating globalization—now not a matter of free markets, but of global capitalists gone wild—and which involves an environmental crisis, we will experience more of what Marx and Engels described in the Manifesto.
Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
*Globalization should not be confused with internationalism. Globalization involves the control of much of the world’s economy by a small slice of the world’s population committed to corporate capitalism.