Walter E. Williams

Recent advocacy of free trade in this column has caused considerable reader apoplexy and anxiety, not to mention accusations of unconcern with worker plight. Readers have protested loss of good paying jobs to low-wage countries such as India, China and other Asian countries. I'd like to propose a way to completely eliminate this angst, and I'm wondering just how many of my fellow Americans would support it.

Let's call it the Level Playing Field Act, where Congress decrees that: Neither a corporation nor an individual shall be permitted to employ a cheaper method of producing a good or service.

The Level Playing Field Act would be a blessing for all those highly paid workers in the high-tech, auto, steel and other industries who see their jobs going to overseas workers earning far less than half their wages. To produce the most successful outcome, Congress would have to complement this law with a similar decree on the consumer side of things, namely: Neither a corporation nor an individual shall be permitted to purchase a cheaper good or service.

This job-saving measure wouldn't only apply to jobs lost to low-wage countries, but it would also apply to automation caused by job-destroying machines. England's 19th century Luddites understood this very well, but they took matters into their own hands and went about destroying job-destroying machinery.

I can sympathize with the Luddites. After all, it's no less painful to a worker who loses his job because the corporation has moved his job overseas than to a worker who loses his job to a cost-saving machine. Either way, he's out of a job.

Being 67 years old, I've witnessed a lot of job destruction. As a young man, I enjoyed watching road construction. At that time, road construction required enormous teams of men doing everything from using jackhammers and pickaxes to dig up cracked pavement to using long two-by-fours to even out and finish the concrete. We just don't see much of this now. These good-paying jobs have been destroyed by huge machines operated by a few men who do the work that took hundreds of men to do yesteryear. Had the Level Playing Field Act been on the books, we'd still have those jobs.


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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