Reaction to Globalization and Deindustrialization
Written by:
Joe Morris Doss

Americans report a lack of agency, that most seem to feel that we have very little say in what is going on and that we are relatively helpless to do anything about what bothers or concerns us. At the Threshold is offering a series that is intended to examine the causes of that frustration.

Globalization is a fact. This is producing a very different mode of operation internationally and domestically. Americans are finding the change highly exciting, very scary, and often painful. Some are all for it; some are absolutely against it; many are just confused and waiting to see what things look like when enough of the smoke clears.

Trade agreements are opposed by politicians on the left and on the right, from Bernie Sanders to organized Labor to Donald Trump. Others who also represent both the left and the right, from President Obama to most Republicans in Congress, are all for free trade and the agreements that enhance it. That alone is confusing enough.

If you understand it and embrace it you are pleased that globalization is widening and deepening in almost every conceivable dimension. Anyone can do business with anyone else anywhere. America’s hardware, software, automobile, pharmaceutical, and other companies all depend more than ever on sales abroad for their growth; 40% of the S&P 500’s revenues are international. The American economy is increasingly dependent on globalization with respect to the inflows of talent and investment and outflows of goods, services, and capital seeking higher returns. If you are in favor of all this, it is very likely that you would be in favor of opening America to engagement with the whole world in more ways than simply doing business. You are, if you will, “open” to internationalism and the whole new dispensation about how the world works.
If you have lost a job because manufacturing plants are closing down, or if you live in large regions of the nation where the pain of unemployment is being broadly shared, you are likely to blame the movement of companies abroad and view international labor competition as unfair. It is likely that you would be more closed to “internationalism,” generally. For example, you would be more likely to resent the immigration of new peoples into the land, and perhaps not only because of labor competition, but because of a rising wish to be left along and closed to the rest of the world. Besides open borders and free trade, you might resent cosmopolitan culture and global intervention. You might just find a candidate appealing who is for closed borders, trade barriers, local and nationalistic culture, and an America First foreign policy.

In an age of anxiety, that closed posture might have a shot at winning. On trade agreements, for example, though supporters represent both the left and right wings of the political spectrum, the opposition is moving into the lead at this point: 60 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of independents believe that trade agreements are mostly harmful (according to a Brookings Institution/Public Religion Research Institute study).

OK, but where does this picture leave us? Here is the reality, and so, “get over it:” globalization is here to stay. We have to adjust, pitch in, and continue to work for the common good.

Take the movement of American manufacturing to foreign lands:
It is tragic to see the suffering caused by those whose jobs are taken abroad, but then it is also tragic to see the suffering of human beings in other countries who lack jobs and livable wages. Christians are just as concerned for neighbors who are far off as for neighbors who are near. The evidence is stacking up to indicate that globalization is better for the world, and if that is so, then Christians must be ready and willing to work for the good of all.

Meanwhile, there is always going to be “the next China” to attract labor-intensive, low-wage manufacturing. In fact, America’s efforts to bring back home one or two million manufacturing jobs pale in comparison to the nearly 100 million manufacturing jobs that are flowing out of China and recirculating to places where there is cheaper labor costs: Myanmar, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and other low-wage, low-skill countries.

The output of American made goods by American companies will continue to decline because the math still clearly favors arbitrage – (1) producing at the cheapest price and (2) closest to one’s customers. The combination of cheaper labor and being able to build close to the customer is the optimal way to manufacture. Indeed, the American manufacturer is discovering that building closer to the customers they are reaching right at home can be cheaper than the savings to be made by hiring cheaper labor elsewhere. In an age of globalization, the hope for increasing American manufacturing is largely in having foreign companies build locally in order to be closer to the Americans to whom they hope to sale what is manufactured. This is apparent, for example, with Japanese cars.

The best way to increase manufacturing at home is not to try to bring plants and companies back, but to improve the infrastructure, making it easier to build and sale across the land. Of course this includes improvement of the social infrastructure in states and cities wishing to attract high-wage business, e.g. schools, broadband availability, culture, etc.

One other fact should be taken into account as workers loose manufacturing jobs: a relatively new problem is about to overtake American workers: robotics. The only hope going forward is to provide training for new jobs and new skills, while supporting those who will need to be retrained.

Take those trade agreements:

Is it not clear enough that The US got the deal it wanted with Iran regarding nuclear weapons production because it had entered into trade agreements with countries that cooperated with the imposition of economic sanctions?

Are enough people paying attention to what “the turn to the East” has meant to American business enterprises, and how much damage would be done economically if the US does not enter into pan Asian trade agreements that are fair, innovative, and farsighted? A study by Peter Petri and Michael Plummer estimates that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would boost American incomes by $131 billion.

Does anyone think Mexico would have become as democratic and economically healthy without NAFTA? And, the flow of Mexican and US immigration during Obama’s term has mainly been the voluntary exiting of Mexicans on their way home to capitalize on the growing economy. The smartest thing the US can do is to send job creating and socially stabilizing supply chains back with those people returning Mexico, investing there. America should begin to think of itself as the heart of an integrated North American supercontinent. The infrastructural, economic, cultural, and strategic blending of north America has become an irreversible fact.

Though developments are still so rapid and so fluid that it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions, overall and on balance there is evidence that globalization is good for the American economy. A study by the Peterson Institute found that past trade liberalization laws added between $7,100 to 12,900 in additional income to the average household. And, a more efficient manufacturing system makes it possible to divert resources into things that improve the quality of life. Neil Irwin points out that Pittsburgh has lost 5,100 steel jobs since 1990, but it has also gained 66,000 health care jobs over the same time.


The Confusing New World
Written by:
Joe Morris Doss

The vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has caused all of us to sit up and pay attention to new realities. No one is confident of predicting where that decision may lead, but we all know that important things are going to be different. The fact is, this crisis is due in large measure, perhaps decisively, to the way everything is already changing from what we know and assumed to be relatively permanent.

Even though we know better, we still tend to see history as leading up to now, and somehow feel that this is fundamentally the way it will be – adding in the improvements and rough bumps in the road – world without end. Most of us picture Western history roughly in terms of a movement from the primitive life of tribal hunting and gathering, to agriculturally based ethnic communities that began to settle in defined territories, to a civilization of empires, to some dark ages, that in turn gave rise to rule by feudal lords, and then built to the establishment of princedoms and finally monarchical nations having ethnically homogeneous populations, to culminate in nation-states, increasingly governed as liberal parliamentary democracies, finally forming an international community of nations that hold a rather broadly based common vision of international law and human rights. From here it should be onward and upward with that!

But of course history is always on the move and suddenly we are starting to feel like we are on a runaway horse without a good grip on the reins or a saddle with stirrups. We are in the beginning stages of a technological revolution, which for the time being we might term “the digital age.” But we are also in the crisis of going from a world order grounded in nation-states to, well, whatever globalization is going to become. Already we have gone beyond the straightforward and exclusive governance by governments, and the populations within national territories are less and less defined by a homogeneous ethnic identify.

Governance now occurs, not only through governments that are accountable to the people of a state, but through decisions made and actions taken by market agents (such as multinational corporations, social entrepreneurs, and micro-financiers), inter-governmental organizations (IGOs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Some facts to ponder:

  • As of 2010, there were about 200 nations that have relations with one another;
  • 130 of the countries were unable to feed the population, and had to rely on the generosity of outside resources, many if not most provided through NGO and IGO operations.
  • There were close to 100,000 multinational corporations that constantly negotiate with governments and one another;
  • There were at least 50,000 transnational NGO’s (Non-governmental Organizations) that consulted on international laws and treaties and intervene in conflict zones to provide assistance to regimes and peoples in need (There was only one as of 1970: Common Cause, a watch-dog organization in the US made famous for the Watergate Reforms)
  • Of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, half were companies. At the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai, corporations had their own pavilions alongside countries;
  • HSBC had 20,000 offices in 83 countries, 300,000 employees, and 150 million customers.
  • More than 100 countries have external voting rights for citizens of other countries in diaspora and 11 reserve seats in parliament for them.
  • In 2006, people of the US (not the government) sent $192 billion to the developing world – most of it in foreign investment, portfolio capital, foundation grants, and philanthropic giving.

A random list providing some sense of NGOs:

Americans for Informed Democracy, World Economic Forum, CARE, Save the Children, Mercy Corps, US Committee to Expand NATO, Clinton Global Initiative, Peace Corps, U.S. Overseas Private Investment Company, Global Business Council for HIV/AIDS, International Campaign for Tibet, Lighting a Billion Lives, Open Society Institute, The Soros Foundation, International Crisis Group, International Rescue Committee, National Solidarity Program, Business for Diplomatic Action, The Business and Human Rights Resource Center, Human Rights Watch, Transparency International, AccountAbility, LeapFrog Investments, The Self-Employed Women’s Association, Kiva, World Wide Water, Clinical Directors Network, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, Institute for OneWorld Health, Habitat for Humanity, International Union for the Conservation of Nature

Only governments, and international organizations founded by governmental accords and agreements have the traditional sort of direct accountability to a population that provides legitimacy of power.

Businesses are directly accountable only to shareholders.

NGOs are accountable to standards set by donors, charities, customers, and their own competition. The legitimacy they are granted depends on their authority of expertise, impartiality, representativeness, and transparency of operations.

The ability of NGOs, as well as businesses, to leverage technology and capital enables them at times to bypass governments altogether.

It is a confusing, churning international picture, within a hot house of rapid change and newly arising realities: new powers, failed states, multinational corporations, organized crime, cyber crime, drug cartels, terrorism, powerful families, increased percentage of wealth in the hands of a decreasing percentage of individuals, vast amounts of inherited wealth, religious radicals, humanitarian philanthropists, powerful and independent organizations, and on and on.

Technology and money, not sovereignty, seems increasingly determinative of who has authority and calls the shots.

No wonder we feel that little ol’ us lacks agency. “Grab a ‘hold and ride,” seems more like the order of the day.

But, stand by, more coming.


Who’s in Charge?

Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Democracy is supposed to maximize the agency of the individual citizen, to give everyone, to the extent possible, the opportunity to control her or his own destiny together with fellow citizens. Today, few of us in the United States who are ordinary citizens feel that we have much of a say. We share a profound sense of being out of the loop, in some else’s control, helpless. This is leading to rather scary possibilities. I make no secret of my most immediate fear that could come of this: election of a pseudo-strong-man hyper-nationalist who will “take charge” by running over whole categories of population that he opposes and seek fatuously simplistic solutions that will not come close to working, but instead can be devastatingly counterproductive. Whatever may come in the fall, the fact is that our collective sense of being out of a political ballgame that feels rigged begs some analysis and evaluation.

It will not surprise anyone that people of faith are unsettled by the institutional decline of the church and by the overwhelming secularization of western culture. A society that has no faith in religion, and takes so little interest in transcendent reality, will become faithful only to matters that cannot ground us and are bound to fail us. If being out of touch with reality is the definition of insanity, then it is hardly surprising that human society seems increasingly crazy, for it is more and more out of touch with the fullness of reality. It is especially dismaying to a Christian to grasp how misunderstood the gospel of Jesus Christ is within this society – despite the assumption that it knows all about it. In fact, the Christianity that is popularized in American society comes closer to the first century pagan religious understandings of God and humanity than to the vision of the man from Nazareth. But let’s come back to this after some consideration of facts “on the ground.”

We will need to think about this in a series of offerings. This will be more productive if you contribute to our thinking about why we feel that we lack the personal agency that we once enjoyed. Nothing would be more helpful than a conversation. I would be happy to post whatever you have to say.

I have to begin with an admission that I don’t understand the world as clearly as I used to think I did.

I wrote a book (The Songs of the Mothers) in which I asserted that the world is changing so much and so rapidly that the church, as an incarnational faith, was going to have to change in order to adapt to it, and serve it as the body of Christ. Thus did I predict the coming ecumenical reformation and issued a plea that we begin reforming now – even if full and ecumenical reformation is not so immediately at hand.

I based this assertion regarding the church’s reformation on the premise that there have been only three watershed reformations (The Constantinian Settlement of the Fourth Century, the Gregorian Reformation that established the Medieval Church, and the Protestant and Catholic Counter Reformations of the Sixteenth Century) and they came about because of two simultaneous forces. First, there was, in each instance, so much pain being experience by the faithful within the church that the internal call for reform was insistent. But at the same time, the world was changing so profoundly that the church too had to adjust just as radically, by way of reform.

That brings us to the question of what is forcing change in the world today. Historically it takes a turning point crisis or a technological revolution to bring about the magnitude of change the world is in the process of going through. Today we have both. We will begin our discussion there.


The Sound of Glass Cracking in the Proverbial Ceiling
Written by: 
Joe Morris Doss

Put aside the matter of choosing for whom you personally will vote. The fact that each of us will have the opportunity to vote for a woman has to be recognized as a highly significant moment in American history, and it is my hope that all Americans – Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike – are, at least to that extend, proud of our democracy. Equality is hard to come by for some categories of persons, and throughout history, women – more than half of the human race – have suffered inequality that should now be viewed as shocking. The day is coming, and this nomination is a big step forward, when all forms of discrimination against women will be unacceptable.

I offer my viewpoint as a white male who knows something about authority and power that seems to come without necessarily being earned. I am a husband and a father, and therefore someone who realizes the need to empower women at a very personal level. I am a leader of the church, and therefore committed to the welfare of all of her members. I am a theologian and therefore someone who understands the religious and moral issues relevant in the quest for equality and justice. I am an attorney and therefore someone who is familiar with the Constitutional and legal issues at hand. But I offer you my personal perspective on discrimination against women especially as a pastor.

The first thing I have to say is really outrageous. That is, it is outrageous that it has to be said at all: Every human being is equally a child of God. Women are equal to men, and to one another, and women are due nothing less than that recognition and that standing. It simply is not enough to acknowledge that, it has to be constitutionally established and made effective within our legal, political, social, and religious spheres.

In fact, I have an outrageous question: If Mrs. Clinton is elected, should she be paid at the same level as her husband when he was President? Noting that most women holding the same job as a man do not receive equal pay, it is an outrageously meaningful question, and one that must be removed in the only way possible.

The next thing I have to say to you as a pastor is very important but seems too little considered. Those of us who participate in a system that discriminates are the people most in need of being freed from it. Martin Luther King spoke as a pastor to those who cannot see the harm to themselves in prejudice and actions of discrimination. From a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, he shed the light of reality on fellow clergymen who wanted to avoid the struggle of their day in obtaining equality for all human beings:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.” 

Finally, I want to say how obviously this nomination makes the case against discrimination within the institutional life of God’s church. The church is intended to be the pioneer for justice in society, but when it comes to women the church is being dragged kicking and screaming into the inevitable realization that it is its own worst enemy. The faith community in which I have a formal role as a bishop, together with most of the mainline protestant churches, has been and remains guilty enough, though decisions have been made to begin correction of our path. But when one sees the determined prejudice and discrimination against women in the very largest of our communities, ranging from the fundamentalist evangelical churches to the sacramental Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, one is staggered by the realization of how far the Christian church is from the way of our Lord. We must call each other to reform whatever is required in order to fully include women in all of the life of the church, including all leadership roles, into which they are baptized!

The model for Christians is Jesus himself, and despite the failures of his church down through the centuries of patriarchal domination, despite the way certain parts of his church still oppress women in his name, Jesus himself treated women exactly as he did with men. We see that he surrounded himself with women; He not only gathered them and associated with them, he made them part of his inner circle. We see how much trouble he got in because of his interaction with women. He was declared unclean and unworthy of leadership in that patriarchal society. We see that the first person he appeared to after the resurrection was a woman and it was this woman he chose as his first apostle to send with the news and spread it as The Good News.

Matters like racial bigotry and the oppression of women was, and for some Christians remain, examples of religious conscience. It is the religious conscience that has to change! The inequality of women and all offenses against justice must be prohibited in the church as well as in law. For where justice is violated we may find religious beliefs, but we will not find God.