Friday, October 11, 2002

OK, so it's a 9-party essay. And it's got some less-than-good parts. For example, in part 6, Wright makes a policy prescription: "To blunt some of globalization's sharper edges, carry political governance beyond the level of the nation-state, to the transnational level."

Some transnational political governance is good. But I believe it's very difficult to do at all, and even more difficult to do right. Wright specifically mentions that "Western labor unions would like to use the leverage of the World Trade Organization to upgrade foreign working conditions—whether with child labor laws or workplace safety standards or a guaranteed right to bargain collectively, or whatever. So far they've been foiled, but there's no reason in principle that the WTO can't address labor issues and even the transnational environmental issues that concern anti-globalization activists, thus evolving from a right-wing form of governance toward the center."

I have some problems with this. First, the WTO is about trade, not within-a-country labor laws. Transnational organizations are going to be more successful if each one addresses fewer issues, not more. There's a scaling problem that becomes particularly bad at the transnational level -- larger bureaucracies are less effective. If a typical national government has different departments for labor and trade, then the world should have at least that division, if not have even more granular divisions.

Second, labor laws from rich countries can be bad for poor countries. Outlawing any child labour may make children much worse off in countries where orphaned or abandoned kids must take care of themselves. Minimum wages in Bangladesh may help American workers much more than the average Bangladeshi, by increasing the price of goods to the point of uncompetitiveness.

Transnational organizations (perhaps governance organizations, perhaps simply lobby/aid/education organizations) are probably good in some ways but can certainly cause damage and waste time when ill-conceived.

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