Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Protectionism - why it's not worth it

I'm not a big fan of saving dying industries; it's both expensive and futile. Sure, it helps to have widely dispersed sources of raw materials and basic supplies like steel and computer chips. That's just common sense.

But to protect an industry is to gamble that your long-term interests are better served by bucking the established market, which says that this industry is a bad bet, at least as currently incarnated. That's also the thesis of Tim Harford, who wrote the book The Undercover Economist: Exposing why the rich are rich, the poor are poor, and why you can never buy a decent used car and is interviewed in TCS Daily - The Undercover Economist
you can point to a town where people are people are put out of work because what they did has now been shipped off to China. And the suffering is very real. But so was the suffering of secretaries who typed when they were all put out of business by Microsoft Word. We don’t look back and say, if only Word Perfect had never been invented. All those girls would still be down in the typing pool typing away. They would still have those jobs.

Those jobs have been lost. Well yes those jobs have been lost. But we don’t mourn the passing of those jobs even though the day when they got their unemployment slips was a painful day for them. And some people maybe never recovered. But a lot of people would have retrained, got better jobs. And certainly as a whole America was better off from not having erected high barriers against Microsoft.
Folks, I was one of those typists. While many of my peers were complaining that the new machines were too difficult to learn, they didn't have the time to go back to school, and, anyway, they could never use them to do their job, I was making a small killing working free-lance, coming in a top rates as the resident expert on word processing, computers, desktop publishing, whatever they'd pay me to do. I eventually had a good relationship with a few temp agencies, who trusted me to be able to walk into a company with a program I'd never seen, and get myself up and running within an hour - or less. After you get to know a few programs, it's kind of easy. They all have similar logic in their make-up, and it just takes a brave soul (like me) who isn't afraid to make mistakes in the process. The biggest problem was usually the printer - they never seemed to keep the manual nearby, and in the old days, you sometimes had to fiddle with the DIP switches (ask grandpa what they were).

I've had a few jobs by now. Some I liked, some I didn't. And, sure, I've missed out on a few things - long-term relationships at work, sometimes benefits, paid vacations. But I've also seen friends and family dropped by companies after years of service, no pension or reduced pension, and no confidence they'll ever work again. And no idea how to find work, it had been so long. There are some advantages to living on the edge - you're ready to saddle up and ride out of town, looking for the next meal - or job. All I need is the black hat and a cigar.



Tags = Technology

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