Jonathan Shainin calls this the best piece of 2017

Here is Jonathan on Twitter, and here is the LRB piece by James Meek, “Somerdale to Skarbimierz, James Meek follows Cadbury to Poland.”

The article covers the economic and sociological effects of outsourcing and wage arbitrage, and how it affects communities and politics on both sides of the investment shift.  It is hard to excerpt, but here is one good bit:

Anna Pasternak, who worked at the new chocolate factory in Skarbimierz, noticed the age of the equipment on the production lines. The wear on the metal caused by decades of Somerdale workers’ hands was the only message the British employees sent to their Polish successors. I met Pasternak in her flat in Brzeg, the nearest sizeable town to Skarbimierz. I asked her how she felt about what had happened to the British factory. ‘I never really thought about it,’ she said. ‘We lost so many jobs here in Brzeg … We didn’t feel sorry that others lost theirs … It’s somewhere else in the world. We don’t physically know these people.’


Barbara Kaśnikowska, the shrewd former head of Wałbrzych zone, suggests, persuasively, that Law and Justice benefited from resentment not of the have-nots towards the haves, but between haves; that as Poland boomed, ordinary people didn’t resent those who’d become super-rich so much as people just like them who, for no good reason, earned twice or three times as much as they did. In her view, Poland’s non-voters didn’t despise Civic Platform: they took its achievements for granted. A Pole, on this analysis, is much more likely to vote to say ‘screw you’ when they are angry than ‘thanks!’ when all’s going well. You can see her point. Andrzej Buła, the marshal of Opole and Civic Platform leader in the province, told me that the EU was funding 40 per cent of the provincial budget, while unemployment had dropped from 14 to 8 per cent. In some counties it’s as low as 5 per cent – essentially full employment. Without the Ukrainians, he said, they’d be short-handed. Yet in the 2015 parliamentary elections Civic Platform lost Opole on a swing of 40 per cent to Law and Justice.

Every paraagraph is excellent, strongly recommended.


"EU was funding 40 per cent of the provincial budget."

Something to keep in mind when people go on about Polish economic miracle.

Good thing Poles can't buy products from Brazil freely. Yeah, "free trade" horsesh!t.

Are you saying subsidies work?

If you want to say they don't work, point at Cornwall. Subsidies and no economic miracle.

The problem the EU is having with nationalism is that the EUs leaders won't speak up for continentalism as opposed to globalism.

The 2015 example of the German Chancellor tearing up EU rules and bullying the small countries of the eastern EU to let through her million Muslim mob was evidence that continentalism is dead. Poor Donald Tusk, the former Polish PM who had retired upstairs to the EU, was hung out to dry by Merkel and Juncker claiming that "European values" mandated letting into Europe vast numbers of military age non-European values, so it's hardly surprising that his party then got hammered by Polish voters.

Continentalism would appear to be be a winning compromise for European parties between nationalism and globalism, but you almost never even here the word these days.

This seems right. PIGS and young France were in rough shape prior to migrant crisis and continental solidarity wasn't appealing to n. European voters, but only Syriza made a major exit threat and ultimately proved too European to quit. The migrant crisis brought out hotter, more numerous nationalisms

This is because EU countries on the opposing sides of the continent have almost as little in common with each other as one EU country and some other country on the other side of the world. Nationalism is a sentiment that a bunch of people sharing a common language and certain cultural habits should feel more empathy towards each other than towards some other people without these similarities. With this in mind, what exactly would be the founding principles of continentalism? Spanish culture is more similar to Argentinian culture than to Swedish culture and Finnish culture is more similar to Russian culture than to French culture. The countries in the EU share almost nothing in common and this is not very fertile ground for continentalism. The EU is a completely arbitrary construction that doesn't respect the traditional culture at all. It's almost like how Africa got clumped into completely arbitrarily chosen countries during the colonial times.

"With this in mind, what exactly would be the founding principles of continentalism?"


There's a way to escape the economic uncertainty that results from global wage arbitration. It"s called "joining the managerial class".

When you go to the right schools and know the right people, it's often dog-eat-dog - but at least it's not a race-to-the-bottom.

Perhaps America's diversity will save us from Poland's (political) fate. In America, the nationalists despise the have nots, who are disproportionately minorities. In Poland the nationalists are the have nots.

I hope you don't make over-generalizations like that to your students.

Turing test fail.

Mr Meek should operate a chocolate company in the UK instead. If capitalism is such a disgraceful, wasteful system, I'm sure he will clean up. Or do middle-class intellectuals just want an economy that rewards self-indulgent self-expression and punishes harshly their peers who inexplicably make far more than writers by serving the needs and wants of others?

+1 - Meek is a rubbish economist, he is all sentiment and no logic. An example of why we need free markets, an economy run according to his principles would quickly disintegrate. Unfortunately there are many people in the UK and the US who think like him hence monstrosities like Sanders and Corbyn.

It's also got a lot of the same old same old LRB / London establishment crew's sneering at Catholics and their ghastly religion. It's the English flaw: insular bigotry. Farage has it. Hitchens had it. The Queen has it. And the LRB has it.

I am surprised that Tyler liked this piece so much considering it is filled with so many economic fallacies. For instance:

"Multinational manufacturers of consumer goods cut their costs to the bone, sweating their wage and pension bill and buying up robots to deliver yield to the pension funds and sovereign wealth funds and hedge funds and wealthy families that own them; but who then will be able to afford the consumer goods? Those people who work for the other guy? But the other guy is doing the same thing. And robots don’t eat chocolate."

This seems to be arguing against productivity enhancements, but we know that is how we got rich in the first place. Jobs are a cost, not a benefit. If it really true that, say chocolate manufacturing can be done by robots for very low cost, then the hedge funds and sovereign wealth funds won't be making money, because there will be oversupply of cheap chocolate. The real beneficiaries are going to be the consumers of the chocolate.

There are many other misunderstandings of how economies work in this sentimental piece. A good example of how good rhetoric can mislead even the best minds. I hope Tyler was being "Straussian" when he praised it.

A common pre-Rustbelt analysis. Now, while recognizing the abstract economics, folk are more likely to notice actual harm to regional populations.

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