Are Freelancers Better Positioned for Globalization?

May 16, 2007

I've been thinking a lot recently about globalization's impact on American workers. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a great blog post this week saying, a local California news site, is looking to hire two reporters from India (they can cover Pasadena city council meetings via webcast). The American Prospect has a point-counterpoint on the wisdom of including labor standards in new international trade agreements. In Newsweek, there's a column by Robert Samuelson, arguing new research shows that very few jobs have actually been lost to offshoring. And at Slate, there's a Q&A with the economist-author of a book called Connected: 24 Hours in the Global Economy, arguing that we need to move beyond the pro vs. anti debate, and do a better job of managing the near-inevitable transition and spreading around the gains from global trade. All of which has me wondering: How does globalization affect independent workers? I think Daniel Altman, author of Connected, would say we should do pretty well. He tells Slate: "What I see in our society is that government, your boss, and your union won't necessarily manage that transition for you. You have to look out for yourself." Successful freelancers are good at looking out for ourselves. We are flexible, acutely aware of the competition, and well versed in adapting our skills to make ourselves indispensable. Also, we can often work from anywhere. In some ways, this makes independent workers the ideal global workers. On the other hand, as the example shows, we're also more vulnerable and easier to replace, no matter what our skills are. I believe globalization is unstoppable, but I'm uncomfortable with a line of argument that absolves government, businesses, and third party institutions from working to raise the lowest common denominator. We should see if we can get those New Delhi hires to join the Freelancers Union.