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Will 2013 be the year globalization died?

Insourcing American Jobs conference

Insourcing American jobs was a theme of the Obama campaign. Peak oilers have predicted it for years. Now it may actually be happening. Photo: Pro President Obama Blog.

In The Campaign, last year’s hilarious, potty-mouthed political romp with Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, the Motch brothers (modeled of course on the Koch brothers) pour buckets of money into the campaign of Galifianakis’s character Marty. Why? They want to build factories in his North Carolina congressional district, where they will employ Chinese workers at Chinese wages.

They call it “insourcing.”

The term might sound silly, but in real life insourcing is no joke. For decades, labor unions and other Buy American fans have been advocating higher tariffs and a return to protectionism to bring factories and jobs back from China to the U.S.

Meanwhile, peak oilers have predicted that rising oil prices will make it too expensive to keep shipping stuff from Asia to consumers in Europe and America. James Howard Kunstler, one peak oiler who isn’t afraid to keep predicting the collapse of the global economy year after year, has just forecast that 2013 will be the year when China’s export markets dry up.

“Worldwide economic entropy cancels out China’s putative advantages in cash reserves, stockpiles of ‘stuff,’ and government that can do what it pleases without a loyal opposition tossing sand in its gears,” writes Kunstler in his “Forecast 2013.”

Doomerism going mainstream

It’s not news when peak oilers see the beginning of the end for globalization. But it is news when the mainstream media start to agree with guys like Kunstler. Take the Washington Post for instance.

“For decades, growing volumes of cross-border trade and money flows have fueled strong economic growth,” columnist Robert Samuelson wrote at the end of December. “But something remarkable is happening; trade and international money flows are slowing and, in some cases, declining.”

Examples abound in the manufacturing world. Apple has started making some of its computers in the U.S. instead of China. General Electric is producing water heaters, refrigerators and other appliances in Kentucky instead of China and Mexico. Otis has moved some elevator production from Mexico to South Carolina. Even Wham-O is molding Frisbees in California instead of China.

Why? A combination of rising wages in Asia and rising transportation costs (mainstream media code for peak oil) have made it cheaper to make stuff closer to where it will be sold.

Of course, Samuelson doesn’t say the words “peak oil.” He also isn’t sure whether more insourcing will lead to a new era of domestic prosperity or kill the goose that laid the golden egg of economic growth under globalization.

But people who care about local economies know that most of the benefits of global trade have gone to the rich and the big corporations they own, with very little benefit to ordinary Americans, who lost good jobs and saw their communities hollowed out.

And anyone who remembers that we live on a finite planet knows that economic growth will have to end someday. When that day comes, we’ll need to find a new way to be prosperous.

Let’s hope that 2013 will be the year it happens.

– Erik Curren, Transition Voice

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