Thursday, August 28, 2003

Time to scratch each other’s backs

Do you remember the ‘no-driving day’ in Venezuela? Somebody’s brilliant idea to ease congestion! Depending on your license plate number, there was one day a week when you couldn’t drive your car. Even if the idea had worked, I still would never have liked it because, as traffic kept growing, logic would lead us towards a blind alley as—inevitably—the next step would be two no-driving days, then three, all the way up to seven, when everything comes to a complete standstill. It’s rather like applauding the fact that a patient’s breathing problems have ceased—because the patient died. 

There’s a hint of all coming to a standstill in the theory about how globalization will optimize the world economy, by ensuring that merchandise will always be produced at the lowest marginal cost. What good does it do us to have products where the cost of the labor component gets smaller by the minute, if workers can’t buy the very products they produce?

What could be waiting for us at the end of that tunnel is a world of desperate wage earners, willing to work for pennies, who might never be able to afford even a reasonable part of the fruit of their efforts. Doesn’t it seem as if we’re getting nowhere?

This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if there were more jobs than workers, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Just ask the millions of professionals competing for jobs as taxi drivers in the world’s capital cities! Not even the United States has managed to escape unharmed from the pangs of globalization. In fact, over the past few months, for the first time, we have seen economic growth in the United States coupled with an increase in unemployment. As it turns out, over the past three years, the United States has “exported” 2.5 million jobs to low-wage countries like China.

I don’t have a solution. How can we increase profits, create jobs, increase wages, put an end to poverty, and make everybody happy? Nonetheless, sometimes I’ve toyed with the idea of a macro global fiscal reform aimed at creating jobs. The principle behind it would be that whoever requires the most services ends up creating the most jobs, and so should end up paying the least taxes. Under such a system, you’d pay double sales taxes on a frozen pizza you eat at home; standard sales tax on a pizza you order over the phone for home delivery, while a pizza eaten at a restaurant wouldn’t just be tax free; it would automatically be credited on your income-tax return. 

Friends, let’s give one another jobs, scratching each other’s backs—paying each other good salaries of course.