The Christian & the Business World #9: The Redemption of Corporate America, Part 2


Everything is made in China.

Wal-Mart, that quintessentially American company, used to display huge signs talking about all the American jobs it had saved by buying American. I dare you to walk through a Wal-Mart today and find fifty machined products made outside of China. A short trip I took recently through their toys section found no toys made in any country except China. Oh, and those big “We Buy American” signs? Nowhere to be found.

When the American flag you buy from Wal-Mart is made in China…folks, the end is near.

Globalization and consolidation are two nebulous problems the Church needs to come to grips with—now.

Say you were a neighbor of Paul Revere back in the home economy days of 1776 and you wanted to buy a set of candlesticks from the well-known silversmith. You get the pair home and you discover a nick in one of them. Simple question: who do you take the candlesticks back to? Paul Revere, right? He’s your neighbor. You know he’s an honest man.

Now try to do business with a multinational corporation. Worse yet, be a poor person living in a poor country under the shadow of a globalized company. That company may be headquartered in Sri Lanka, but while Sri Lanka may have draconian anti-pollution laws, Djibouti doesn’t. As a Djiboutian (sic) to whom do you complain about the toxic green sludge pumped into your backyard? Who really is in charge? Who is a division of whom?

The ability to globalize allows companies their own form of psy ops tool. A company, claiming it could no longer compete globally, tries to move its headquarters to the Caribbean to head off corporate taxes. Scariest of all, particularly to the employees who would lose their jobs in the U.S., there was no way to prevent this from happening. Because it is now easy for a company to move its headquarters to another country, they can use that as blackmail against communities about as easily as pro sports team whine to get new stadiums. If anyone who is reading this lives in a town gutted by a company that went “global,” you know about this kind of corporate blackmail. And in the end they leave anyway.

But for Christians, the biggest problem is not that globalized companies skirt a country’s laws by locating in a different country without those laws. Nor is it that jobs leave. The biggest problem with globalization is that we Americans, particularly us Christians, are not ready for the fallout of trying to compete globally against countries with costs of living a tenth of what ours is.

Let me tell you right off that I do not begrudge the man in Bangalore, India, his new IT job at Microsoft’s new multimillion dollar facility in Bangalore. But what does bother me is that I simply cannot compete against him. OffshoringMy education costs more, my food costs more, my housing costs more. my taxes cost more—basically everything it takes for me to live one day costs more than it does for that man in Bangalore. The cruel fact is that not only can I not compete against him, but no one in the United States can, either. A friend of mine recently told me that legal services are now being offshored, so even lawyers are not immune.

Futurists are predicting that not only is the United States post-Industrial, it is rapidly becoming post-Technological—the one hard science edge the U.S. has had over the rest of the world. “Invented here” is not just a slogan of Hewlett-Packard; it basically was the slogan for all of United States. But that time is ending. The Wall Street Journal recently noted that engineers in America who have college-aged children can’t get them to go into engineering or any other tech-related field because the kids saw their parents go through repeated down cycles in engineering and would prefer to be a history prof if that means not going to the unemployment line every three years.

The irony was that tech companies created a self-fulfilling prophecy when they announced that they couldn’t find tech workers to fill their jobs. The hard truth is that plenty of American tech workers existed, but the tech companies simply did not want to pay them market rates. Instead, they pumped money into India, Pakistan, or Malaysia, all the while decrying the lack of skills in American high school graduates. The thirst for H-1b visaholders (tech workers allowed in the country on a special permit that can be rescinded by the company they work for, effectively rendering them indentured servants) ran so high that even during the tech bust, American politicians like Orrin Hatch were manning the megaphone for companies who wanted to have the lower-paid visaholders. Now that tech got their due, there are lobbyists working tirelessly to expand the H-1b visa past the tech requirement to allow for this visa to cover airline and medical workers, and even professors, much to the chagrin of academics who initially argued for the visas back in the Clinton era.

If American jobs are being sent overseas and H-1b visas are expanded to cover more and more fields, what do we tell our children to go into when it is their time to join the job market?

Again, the same futurists who are claiming we are post-Technological, now claim that the only recourse for the United States workforce is to become entertainers. You read that right. The only thing the United States has a corner on is global entertainment. And so the United States is poised to become tap0dancing fools so the world can get a good chuckle now and then. Not a promising future.

We have to be prepared for this truth: Our children will not have it as good as we do. I believe that the standard of living in the United States is dropping, particularly in the middle class. My wife and I know many people who have lost jobs in the last five years and are working for much less money than they once did. There is no promise of that returning. Many were hit in their peak earning years and simply will not recover.

Darwinian theory accounts for this. There can only be winners and losers. For the longest time, Americans were the winners. Some Americans will continue to be winners, but at the cost of the middle class moving downward into the lower class. This is the first year I can remember where our family refused medical treatments we’d accepted in the past because we could no longer afford them—and that’s with insurance. The oddity is that the people above us have no problems with this and neither do the people below. The people above can easily afford treatments and medication we cannot, while the people below qualify for assistance that can get them those treatments and medications for free—at least as long as the government picks up the tab. But even for them, there is no guarantee this will continue.

Churches in America are unprepared for the fast-approaching day when their congregants will be unable to keep their heads above the global economic tide. We had our day, but what do we do now that world affluence will move to places like Bangalore instead of Baltimore? The threat of losing everything looms large for those who are caught in the paradigm shift. Perhaps our children can live with less and have lower standards, but for those of us born in the 1950s-70s, this will be a bitter pill to swallow.

The irony of this is that Evangelical America, in particular, will have to start paying attention to justice issues (a long-ignored part of the Gospel), particularly economic justice issues when it is they who are finding economic injustice perpetrated against them.

Not only does globalization, offshoring, outsourcing and expanded definitions for H-1b visas portend rough times ahead, but consolidation makes this worse. Several years ago, there was a movie called The Highlander that featured immortals clashing with giant broadswords capable of lopping off another’s immortal’s head, the only way to render him less than immortal. The tagline to the movie was, “There can be only one.”

In essence, this is Darwinism at work. If the selfish gene is truly selfish, then all other genes must die at its expense. Anyone conscious who paid any attention at all to the behind-the scenes transcripts that came out of the Microsoft monopoly trial can tell you that companies don’t play nice. Any advantage, regardless of the malfeasance involved, will be played. That this has become the de facto standard in most of industries should be shocking. Instead we yawn.

But beyond the evil that some businesses do to gain the upper hand and pass on their corporate genes at all cost, there is the issue that monopolies and consolidation defy policing and lead to a blandness that is at odds with the creative spark engendered in Christianity. Francis Schaeffer repeatedly noted that Christians should be the ones driving the arts, but consolidation has taken that out of our hands. Because so few companies control many industries today, the cost to break in against them is, frankly, impossible.

This, too, extends into previously unhindered fields such as art, writing, and film. The complete and total consolidation occurring in the publishing and media fields is frightening. Where once there were a hundred large publishing companies, we now have six global firms controlling everything you read. The cost to us is that we’ve gone from a thousand editors to perhaps only a hundred powerful—and highly overworked—editors at these publishing houses and all their affiliates. This means that it is much harder for new writers to have their voice heard. It also means that every editor is pressed to have instant hits or else. Because of this, editors are less willing to take chances and would much rather stick with a few name authors and their proven series strength than try something new. Sadly, consolidation has afflicted music and art in much the same way. Someone must win and someone must lose. Win-win is out.

Consolidation is one of the reasons that Christians find it nearly impossible to get their foot in the door in Hollywood. The whole apparatus of making a film has been raised to exorbitant costs by consolidation within the big film studios by global companies with large pockets. The good Christian film either never gets made or never gets adequate distribution unless an insider does it (think Mel Gibson here.)

One last note on consolidation—if anyone thinks consolidation make no difference to Christians, ask how it is possible to have a Revelation-style one-world government without consolidated business. Something to ponder.

So much of what is happening in business and the economy is so intertwined that it is a veritable Gordian knot for Christians. I’m finding it difficult to even write about because one rabbit hole leads to another. But we must start addressing these issues. Our silence is damning for people both in and out of the Church who are looking for answers and are finding that the Church has none except, “Pray harder.”

I think there are answers for redeeming business in America, but before we get there, let’s address the last few items in my list of nine problems, age-ism, downsizing, unnatural family situations that lead to stress and family breakdowns, and corrupt business practices adopted as models for the Church. Look for those in the next installment in this series.

{Image from In These Times, “High Tech Hijack“, Jan. 27, 2005.}

Previous post in this series: The Christian & the Business World #8: The Redemption of Corporate America

Next post in this series: The Christian & the Business World #10: The Redemption of Corporate America, Part 3

6 thoughts on “The Christian & the Business World #9: The Redemption of Corporate America, Part 2

  1. It’s very interesting reading, and it looks like you have the start of a pretty good book. And you’re talking about some of the things that have been bugging me recently.

    But haven’t you noticed that it’s increasingly the trend that churches themselves are being run as if they were businesses, and that the Gospel is ending up being �marketed�?

  2. Anonymous

    If our children are sufficiently gifted, they should be doctors and specialize in Radiology. Radiologist’s jobs are never outsourced and they unually make more money than any other kind of doctor. Failing this, they could be morticians. We aren’t outsourcing our funerals yet.

  3. It’s part of my experiences in the doom and gloom seventies, but I am not yet ready to buy the premise that our kids are doomed to live poorer than we do. There are too many unknowns, too many factors that move as they are affected. The guy in Bangalore won’t always be content to live as he does now, for instance.

    I don’t doubt your analysis is somewhat sound, but I think your conclusions might need tempering. Again, it may just be because I’ve been hearing doomsday scenarios for thirty years, none of which came true.

    I agree wholeheartedly, though, that the church should prepare.

  4. I was one of those people who started college in 1997 and was excited about tech because of the Internet. My brother graduated from college in the same year and he said people were getting hired sight-unseen and given nice bonuses to start. Well, when the bubble burst, and then 9-11 hit, tech jobs were scare to say the least.

    I remember reading while in college that there weren’t enough tech people available and back then I knew that the supposed shortage was a lie. Corporations only see the bottom line and cut jobs in the US and then give the executives big bonuses for saving so much money for cutting jobs. 🙁

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