Can workers in the West compete with hard-working, anything-for-a-buck Third Worlders? Check out the Economist debate on Workforce Talent 2020.
Itâ€™s the jobs, stupid! For years, a growing popular dislike of globalisation in rich countries has been driven by fear that their workers â€” initially, the low-skilled sort, but lately also the white-collar sort â€” will not be able to compete with all those billions of hungry, cheap Chinese, Indians, Mexicans and so forth. As first manufacturing, then back-office processing, and more recently innovation, have increasingly been done in emerging economies, politicians and the media have screamed about the loss of â€œourâ€ jobs, and proposed solutions ranging from better education to protectionism.
But how valid are these fears? Are workers in rich countries doomed to become ever less competitive, as our proposition suggests? Or can something be done to improve their competitiveness? More fundamentally, is the fear wholly misplaced, whipped up by populist politicians with a weak grasp of economics who play on the rich-world publicâ€™s worries rather than try to calm them?
“Educational stagnation” will hold back most rich countries, argues Jacob Funk Kirkegaard. â€œBaby-boomers in the United States and Germany will soon retire, but have neglected to ensure that their children replacing them are on average better educated than themselves.â€ But educated workers are a much smaller percentage of the population in developing countries than in wealthy countries, counters Lynda Gratton.