In his provocative article, "Why There Should Be A Global Minimum Wage," Jason J. Campbell poses the following question: “Since outsourcing is a viable economic model wherein First World corporations export their labor to defer cost and maximize profits, should there be an international standard for the minimum amount that laborers, of any country, may legally be employed for?” (“To what extent does it differ from slavery,” he then asks.)
I’ll stay away from the moral argument, which seems to be the mainstay of Mr. Campbell’s article. The question of implementation, or the feasibility of enforcement, is another bag of worms; consequently, I'll stay away from it, too. What I’d like to argue, however, is that the very idea of global minimum wage (and a multitude of same-order concepts) presupposes a certain state of affairs – “the new world order,” I called it for short. In effect therefore, whether wittingly or not, Mr. Campbell has given us a blueprint, a glimpse of the future – not the future you or I would necessarily desire but a future nonetheless. His argument is (how shall I put it?) “in reverse,” first positing a controversial piece of legislation – one which, on the face of it at least, would appear to be ludicrous under the existing conditions – and then daring us to imagine a state of affairs, a world in which the exact same proposition or body of laws wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Hence the underlying purpose: to unpack the argument and by means of reverse engineering, to reconstitute it anew.
In the interest of exposition, I'm going to proceed incrementally, from the existing cases to those which are still in the process of forming – eventually to those which are likely to come into being in the near or not so near future. “Global minimal wage” shall remain our point of focus – the lever – but let there be no misunderstanding: any similar such concept (such as “uniform currency” or “no-discrimination clause”) would do just as well. And here, the most logical place to start would be the U.S. itself, already a federation de jure and de facto (despite a growing sentiment to the contrary).
For better or worse, the minimum wage law is the law of the land. True, every attempt at increase has been fought, and bitterly, by business interests and state legislatures from North Carolina to Texas. But once the new law is passed, it becomes a moot point: the states had better comply or else.
Which isn’t to say that the passage of the law does away with all regional differences. Far from it! There’ll still be a considerable discrepancy between living standards between such states as Kentucky, for instance, and those of New York or California. Likewise, it won’t altogether stop the shift of capital from less to more productive areas or regions, necessitated as it may be by state-to-state differences in the corporate tax structure or any other business-related consideration; some states will be more economically depressed than others, that goes without saying. But the overall effect (to the extent possible) inevitably results in a certain leveling – which is to say that most Americans, regardless of where they live and everything else being equal of course, do enjoy (or have enjoyed) pretty much the same lifestyle. Case closed.
The same with the EU. The Euro is already the common currency – only the pound maintaining its former independence – which put an end to cumbersome, day-to-day exchange transactions and the foreign exchange market. Considering the distances involved and the absence of passport/visa restrictions, travel is easy, which makes it just as likely for a Frenchman to work for a German-based firm as it is for an Italian. Comparable lifestyles and cost of living provide further disincentives for unnecessary capital shifts and business relocation. And although the union had started out as an economic bloc first and foremost, it’s slowly acquiring all the main features and characteristics usually attributable to a federation of states – to include “a standardized system of laws which apply in all member states, a common trade policy, agricultural and fisheries policies, and a regional development policy.” In short, it may well be that it’s on its way to becoming a full-fledged political community.
What’s next? I suppose one could think here of NAFTA, any trade agreement, in fact, whose purpose is to facilitate the exchange of goods and services, limit travel restrictions, and generally speaking, open the labor market which otherwise would have been less accessible to business and entrepreneurial needs.
There are already strong cultural and linguistic ties binding the Americans and the Canadians; and should those ties become reinforced perchance by the commonality of economic interests, then who knows – even the Mexicans might join (as equal partners, of course) in the joint venture. And in the event that past histories, unresolved differences, and feelings of animosity, bad blood and whatnot, would serve (as some might argue) as an insurmountable obstacle and a permanent stumbling block, the South American countries themselves might form a coalition all their own. And so and so forth, until the entire world would become parceled out thus along economic, cultural, and geographic divides – parcels smaller than continents, perhaps, but beyond nation-states. And from there, it’s but one single step until the realization sets in that perhaps, just perhaps, a world government might be the only way to go.
Such could be the natural progression; but then again, it could be not. There might be wars interspersed with rumors of wars, revolutions, social unrest and bloodshed, before the world finally settles down and goes about its business (as it eventually will). But the exact chain of events is beyond the scope of this paper, nor is it prudent for any writer to try to divine it. Suffice to say that the trend towards centralization of power is a real one. And providing that we shall recover from the present crisis – which is a big if – and that corporations the world over will once again acquire their former stature, the centralization of political power along the lines just indicated would be one effective way of responding – a way that would be, relatively speaking, free of violence, takeover, any overt act, in fact, that would otherwise fly in the face of, and thereby offend the sensibilities of, the feeble-hearted. I’d view it as the most natural response on the part of the polity to deal with the globalization aspect in virtually every other area of our lives.
Since the object of this paper is not to offer predictions, only to examine the consequences in the event that some such state of affairs is likely to occur, let me return to my original question: What’s to be gained from such an unseemly arrangement? Who’ll be the winner and who the loser? Will the advantages outweigh the disadvantages?
Well, let’s think for a moment. A minimum wage law imposed throughout the federation – reinforced besides by the same currency – would do away with unnecessary and sometimes wasteful capital shifts from one part of the globe to another; and the same, naturally, goes for unnecessary business relocation. I stress the word “unnecessary” because some movement of capital or production facilities might be a good thing: it’d result in a desirable leveling effect, eliminating the most glaring differences with respect to lifestyles and economic opportunity. But even this development, I hasten to add, would be hampered or rendered impractical by ease of travel and comparable language and employment skills.
These are first-order consequences, consequences that are immediate, concrete, and most readily apparent. There are ramifications, however, which shouldn’t escape us. The first would be putting an end to, or severely limiting, unfair business practices. In particular, the moral question which seems to have exercised Mr. Campbell and prompted his article – namely, equating the practice of outsourcing to exploitation (and, therefore, to a form of slavery) – would tend to dissolve itself. Why? Because as the saying goes, take away the opportunity and you take away the temptation. And a level playing field for employers and employees alike – pretty much assured throughout the federation – would effectively eliminate those opportunities.
A related development, and I mention it only in passing, would be in the area of competition and product quality: it would revitalize the former from the ground up by making it honest and aboveboard, because cheating or cutting corners would not be allowed, necessarily improving the latter; everyone would be a winner. But most importantly, perhaps, it would anchor businesses to their places of operation – a long-abandoned practice since the corporations have declared their independence and practically disavowed any affiliation with the local community – resulting thus in a certain give-and-take and mutual good will.
Another important set of consequences would benefit the polity as a whole and greatly improve the relationship between government and business. Since the rules of the game would follow more or less internally, necessitated by the lay of the land as opposed to being dictated "from above,” the government would no longer be perceived as “the oppressor,” as though engaged in excessive regulation; to be sure, there’d still be regulation and forms of control, but they’d be perceived as working from afar – or indirectly, if you like – rather than issuing from the government by any direct kind of action or fiat.
Needless to say, there’d be another concomitant as well, of restoring good will and, hopefully, the spirit of cooperation between business and government. But perhaps the most significant effect of all would be in the form of cleanup – a kind of general purging, if you will, of both public and private sectors of the culture of corruption which, at present, permeates the body politic and contributes to the eroding confidence in our political and economic institutions.
How so? Well, I’ve already addressed the likely changes in the corporate culture. Leveling the playing field would go a long way towards reducing the opportunity to cheat, cut corners, and generally speaking, engage in anything other than fair play. And with the opportunities gone, so would the temptation. But surely, the same logic must apply to the workings of the government as well. Indeed, take the opportunity away and you have virtually deprived all government officials and politicians of the temptation to engage in favoritism, quid pro quo, and bribe – all things, in fact, which are the integral elements of, and (in a manner of speaking) define, fraud. The collusion between public and private interests would be a thing of the past.
Why? Again, because the system wouldn’t support it! And then, who knows, we might even restore honesty and integrity to our government. And justice, too! I know it’s a big if; but then again, it all goes to show that the possible future, such as the one entertained here, doesn’t have to be all that bleak. These are positive developments.
But I had better close before exhausting the reader’s patience and my extraordinary streak of good luck. Suffice to say, this little exercise in imaginative thinking – a thought-experiment, if you like – has not been in vain. Interestingly enough, the experiment is likely to continue. A federation of states, limited as it may be at first, may well serve as a crucible of sorts – a testing ground – in the context of which to perfect and iron out whatever little wrinkles and inconsistencies might exist before the Big Bang – an all-out government of the world, of the people, by the people, and for the people – comes about at last. And that’s the beauty of it all, its flexibility and openness to experimentation. We can proceed piecemeal, on a case-by-case basis, until the final plan is put into effect. This is something to cheer about, not despair.
Granted, it may not be the panacea we may have hoped for. And I’m including here all souls, those who are entrenched in the past as well as those who are looking instead to a more equitable resolution. The good ole’ times are gone and we had better let go; they’re irretrievable. But if you think for a moment the future I’m envisaging here is unpalatable or beyond contempt, think again. Just imagine the planet Earth being invaded by the aliens and then tell me whether anything less than a worldwide federation would do. I dare you. I double dare you!
Welcome to Star Trek, The Next Generation. It’s sooner than you think.
The only problem I’m envisaging has to do with the dilution of representation. But representative democracies, for better or worse, have long replaced direct democracies, so there’s no sense crying over spilled milk. In the best case scenario, the federation could be subdivided into cantons, local communities whose representatives would have a say in running their own, local affairs; consequently, these voices would carry as input in the general assembly. In the worst possible case, God only knows.
A final word to my critics: I well know the risks I undertook by resorting to such a controversial title. A “new world order” is surely bound to evoke all kinds of responses, from negativity and hostility to fear. Let me assure you, however, this has not been my intention. Nor have I tried, think as you may, to validate the purposes of all those – “the powers that be,” for lack of a better term – who are believed by some (with or without justification) to work towards that end. Quite the contrary, what I think I offered here is a fairly plausible account of the unfolding future, even if it does approximate the wishes of the ruling elite – “an invisible hand” type of explanation, if you like, which takes into account the workings of the human agency but isn't necessarily a direct expression or the intended consequence thereof.
You see, it just may well be that for all their cunning and stratagems, for all their conspiracies and whatnot, for all their wishing for the very same thing that I’m here espousing, there is a chance, however slight a chance, that they’re about to shoot themselves in the foot. And I wouldn’t lose a minute of sleep over it.
Which brings us to the old Chinese proverb that we had better be careful what we wish for!