Wage Slaves

U.S. corporations are opening their doors to free trade and recruiting executive talent from third-world countries, for a third of the price of their American counterparts.

Imagine the following: The New York Times announced today that it was replacing its columnists, Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman, with the two leading bilingual writers from the Beijing Daily. A Times spokesman explained that the move was necessary to meet the global competition.

The two prize-winning Chinese newspaper columnists - Li Gangsun and Mao Yushi - pledged to work hard, writing four columns a week, if desired, for $25 a column. Media analysts estimated that the Times would reduce its costs by more than 95 percent.

An accompanying Times editorial urged other companies and think tanks to consider opening up their ranks to free trade in executive talent from third-world countries. "It is time to practice what we preach and join the globalization movement," said the editorial, "and achieve the long-hidden efficiencies from these markets."

The Times cited two examples where the CEOs from Boeing and General Electric, at retirement, replaced themselves with highly regarded, experienced executives from Shanghai and Cuernavaca , respectively, who are taking office with an unheard-of pay package (for them) of $19,000 a year. These two gentlemen have long experience with Boeing factory outsourcing in China and with GE factories and suppliers moving to Mexico. With today's online technology, they expect to remain where they are, with occasional visits to the States.

Tom Friedman's last column had a wistful tone - given his past paeans to corporate globalization - but it concluded on a defiant note: "I regret that my editors failed to recognize both my long service to the Times and my double Pulitzer Prizes. It seems that the intangibles of quality and place have no value anymore. Apparently, everything now is for sale!"

At a departure ceremony, his editors gave Friedman an award for Reporter Who Has Traveled the Most and predicted that he would be a fine prospect for employment with the fast-expanding global Chinese media.

Professor Krugman's good-bye column was totally different. He developed an amended theory of comparative advantage to rebut the very thought of replacing him. "Totally unique commodities like me," wrote the noted economist, "can only adhere to a doctrine of superior advantage. My eminence cannot be compared to the exchange of early-19th-century Portuguese wine for British textiles."

Krugman declared that he will return to his full-time faculty post at MIT, where he will research how the practice of monopolistic competition can be exempted from world trade agreements and the imminence of widespread-distance learning.

Li Gangsun's first column recommended that the Chinese government bring a number of WTO complaints against the non-tariff trade barriers erected by the upper classes of U.S. corporations and universities. "Since everything is for sale," he wrote, "then all these positions should be considered 'commerce and trade' and opened to vigorous competition worldwide.

As for those "tenured economics professors at Harvard and Stanford, who are always testifying for total free trade between nations," he wrote, "they are the essence of impermissible barriers to trade. There are numerous Chinese academics who could do a better job, either in situ or by Internet instruction, at far lower salaries, thus lightening the tuition and debt load for American students."

Word has leaked out that the upcoming meeting of the Business Roundtable, which will be closed to the press, will have on its agenda a debate over the topic, "Globalization: if it's good for our workers, why not our top executives?"

Meanwhile, over at the offices of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, near the White House, CEO Tom Donahue is huddled with his aides. The Chamber was planning a joint press conference with its counterpart Mexican Chamber of Commerce to protest President Clinton's clear violation of NAFTA by banning Mexican truck drivers from access to all 50 states.

Already the Teamsters Union and consumer safety groups have been emphasizing the traffic-safety hazards of such poorly maintained trucks. Moreover, Teamster drivers are angry over having to compete with seven-dollar-a-day Mexican drivers.

The aides have new information for Mr. Donahue that is furrowing his brow. It seems that the head of the Mexican Chamber, Jorge Zapata, after reading the Times, is preparing an offer to replace Mr. Donahue. Zapata, a hard-driving, Harvard Business School-trained economist, is willing to work for one-eighth of Mr. Donahue's executive compensation package and move to Washington before the year's end. This could lead to reductions in management salaries at the Chamber below Mr. Donahue's level, argues the memo, and result in an overall reduction in membership dues.

Mr. Donahue heaved a sigh and, deferring comment, suggested that they all go out for a three-martini lunch.

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