Wednesday, April 30, 2008

We Only Plough The Deep

For, why are we surrounded with the Sea?
Surely that our Wants at home might be supply'd by
our Navigation into other Countries, the least and
easiest Labour. By this we taste the Spices of Arabia,
yet never feel the scorching Sun which brings them
forth; we shine in Silks which our Hands have never
wrought; we drink of Vinyards which we never
planted; the Treasures of those Mines are ours, in
which we have never digg'd; we only plough the Deep,
and reap the Harvest of every Country in the World.
We are blessed, some three hundred years after these words were penned, to be the first generation in which most of us can truly enjoy the benefits of free trade and globalisation - to 'only plough the deep and reap the harvest of every country in the world'. In the intervening period wars, xenophobia, and dull-witted protectionism has denied billions of humans before us the fruits of free trade.

But there are forces that would drag us back behind the borders and the trade barriers, and they don't get more dull-witted than nonsense such as RTE's Wheres My Job Gone, broadcast last night. We were treated to the spectacle of John from Celbridge meeting 'the man who got his job' Vaclav in the Czech Republic after Schneider manufacturing moved their operations there four years ago. The tone of the narration was extraordinary: we were constantly told that jobs were moving as if jobs are goods that could be packed up in crates and shipped across the sea. They aren't: jobs are the outcome of people, capital and finance coming together in a time and place to create products and services that other folk are willing to buy. Jobs aren't like trees that can be planted (or uprooted) when the people with the capital and finance want to move. Though that still doesn't stop people wondering why the Government doesn't do something - like grow jobs as if they were trees?

Ironically John from Celbridge seemed to have a better understanding of this than the doleful programme narrator. As did the folk in Poland, expectant recipients of a Proctor & Gamble factory replacing the one in Nenagh referred to in the broadcast. They understand that there is no job for life: a tough lesson for John and his generation to learn but one I can assure you the younger generation in Ireland have learned. And so it seems have the Polish who are already thinking about what they will do when it becomes cheaper to set up factories in Bulgaria or further afield.

Yet it is because of the global ambition of P&G and Schneider etc to produce their products at lower prices that we can all enjoy the vastly lower cost of the things we buy in the shops or online. Luxury has been democratized - thanks to globalisation and technological innovation (the two going hand-in-hand). Better still, Ireland has embraced this trend: one reason the average standard of living in Celbridge or Nenagh is vastly higher than in Poland or the Czech Republic. The story of trade has been ever thus.

The question then is: how will we create the wealth that will create the jobs of the future? Firstly we begin with the fact that we have wealth: financial and human capital. Combine this with ambition, a willingness to take risks and access to the best part of 6 billion customers thanks to globalisation and we are in a good place to build on what we have. Like these two young lads from Limerick.

Sure it won't be easy: and for sure the forces working against globalisation and threatening catastrophic alternatives are strong. But it wasn't easy in the 1980s nor in the 1990s when we faced a far, far grimmer future and yet we succeeded.

For, why are we surrounded with the Sea?

1 comment:

  1. That programme (sic) was an embarrassment. The tone... my god. What about the relative failure to build an education system that provides the skills needed from a knowledge based economy. Oh, and "the collision brothers" collided with the Irish Education System, and overcame its inherent lack of flexibility. Every book, report, study of civilisation and its development points towards the long term benefit of free trade, and being the crossing point of cultures. This programme did not auger well for our development of this kind of culture.

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