The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Globalization and Baltimore

Orioles' COO John Angelos's explanation for the unrest in Baltimore has been widely shared. Is he right?

A youth rides a bicycle while wearing a gas mask in front of a line of police on Monday in Baltimore. (MICHAEL REYNOLDS/European Pressphoto Agency)

The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts is trying to process the unrest in Baltimore in recent days. It’s hard not to read accounts that cause one to be extremely sympathetic to those who have to live under the shadow of a police force that seems to trigger an awful lot of costly lawsuits.

But there is a small item that’s been rocketing around my social media that merits a partial rejoinder.

One of the effects of the unrest has been to disrupt the Baltimore Orioles games at Camden Yards. In response to many complaints that these protests now negatively affect the daily lives of other citizens, Baltimore Orioles Chief Operating Officer John P. Angelos took to Twitter to “respond with a qualified and brilliant defense of those protesting” according to USA Today’s Ted Berg. This part of Angelos’ defense caught my attention:

[M]y greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state (emphasis added).

Now as I said, this statement has gone viral with lots of enthusiastic support. Do read the whole thing. There are certainly portions of the statement that caused me to nod along in sympathy.

The bolded section, however, was not one of those portions.

The truth is that manufacturing jobs — which are the jobs that we’re talking about when we’re talking about shipping jobs overseas — were starting to disappear from Baltimore before 1975. There are sympathetic studies on this question do attribute some of the later declines to the U.S. opening to China. But even those studies do not ascribe more than a quarter of the decline to the China opening.

The far bigger driver of these job losses is the creative destruction that comes from innovation and productivity increases. As Matthew Yglesias wrote in Slate a few years ago:

[O]n net, global manufacturing employment declined from 1996-2006. Factory jobs were certainly added in China, but they weren’t one-to-one displacing factory jobs in the West. Rather, the geographical shift in manufacturing employment is just a small ripple on the surface of the ocean — the big trend is simply toward more automation and more productivity.

Charles Kenny noted more recently in Bloomberg Business:

[T]he U.S. jobs slide began well before China’s rise as a manufacturing power. And manufacturing employment is falling almost everywhere, including in China. The phenomenon is driven by technology, and there’s reason to think developing countries are going to follow a different path to wealth than the U.S. did — one that involves a lot more jobs in the services sector.
Pretty much every economy around the world has a low or declining share of manufacturing jobs. According to OECD data, the U.K. and Australia have seen their share of manufacturing drop by around two-thirds since 1971. Germany’s share halved, and manufacturing’s contribution to gross domestic product there fell from 30 percent in 1980 to 22 percent today. In South Korea, a late industrializer and exemplar of miracle growth, the manufacturing share of employment rose from 13 percent in 1970 to 28 percent in 1991; it’s fallen to 17 percent today.

You can make the case that trade liberalization was responsible for some of the manufacturing job losses that Angelos references. But it is not even close to the overarching bogeyman that he makes it out to be.

Furthermore, Angelos is not opposed to globalization, not really. At least, his Baltimore Orioles club is not. If you look at the Orioles roster from four decades ago, you discover that of the 34 Orioles that played on the 1975 team at some point, only two players were not from the United States. On the other hand, if you look at the nationalities of the 2015 Orioles opening day roster, you discover that of the 30 players listed, there are seven players who are not American. In other words, the non-American portion of the Orioles major league roster has quadrupled over the past four decades.

I seriously doubt that Angelos would argue in favor of restricting employment opportunities for Venezuelan or Dominican baseball players. So while I certainly sympathize with portions of his statement, maybe he should reflect on the merits and demerits of globalization a bit more.