Walter E. Williams

Among George Orwell's insightful observations, there's one very worthy of attention: "But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought." Let's look at a few examples of corrupted language, thought and information.

Pretend you're a customs inspection agent. There's a cargo container awaiting a ship bound for foreign shores. You ask the shipper, who works for a big corporation, what's in the container. He answers, "It's a couple of thousand jobs that we're exporting overseas to a low-wage country."

What questions might you ask? How about, "What kind of jobs are in the container?" or, "Are they America's high-paying jobs?" Most people would probably say: "You're an idiot! You can't bundle up jobs and ship them overseas!"

A job is not a good or service; it can't be imported or exported. A job is an action, an act of doing a task. The next time a right- or left-wing politician or union leader talks about exporting jobs overseas, maybe we should ask him whether he thinks Congress should enact a law mandating U.S. Customs Service seizure of shipping containers filled with American jobs.

Let's turn to the next part of the exporting jobs nonsense, namely that corporations are driven solely by the prospect of low wages. Let's begin with a question: Is the bulk of U.S. corporation overseas investment, and hence employment of foreigners, in high-wage countries, or is it in low-wage countries?

The statistics for 1996 are: Out of total direct U.S. overseas investment of $796 billion, nearly $400 billion was made in Europe (England received 18 percent of it), next was Canada ($91 billion), then Asia ($140 billion), Middle East ($9 billion) and Africa ($7.6 billion). Foreign employment by U.S. corporations exhibited a similar pattern, with most workers hired in high-wage countries such as England, Germany and the Netherlands. Far fewer workers were hired in low-wage countries such as Thailand, Colombia and Philippines, the exception being Mexico.

The facts give a different story from the one we hear from the left-wing and right-wing anti-free trade movement. These demagogues would have us believe that U.S. corporations are rushing to exploit the cheap labor in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Surely with average wages in these countries as low as $10 per month, it would be a darn sight cheaper than locating in England, Germany and Canada, where average wages respectively are: $12, $17 and $16 an hour.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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