A Jordanian laborer works at a car filter plant in the Jordan Gateway Industrial Park, a free trade zone straddling the Israel-Jordan border.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Arad’s mayor described her city as fighting for its life. This came after the local towel-manufacturing plant announced that it was closing down and moving to Jordan, where wages are much lower.
More than 200 people are losing their jobs. Theirs is not the first industrial operation to have folded or moved away in recent years. Worse yet, Arad has not attracted others to fill the void.
The upshot is that the upwardly mobile are relocating to more prosperous areas. If this trend is not reversed, Arad will begin to resemble a decaying ghost town, populated by the elderly and the poor who chiefly subsist on welfare.
It would mean the crumbling of an idealistic and, for a long time, successful Zionist endeavor. Arad used to be the feather in the cap of development towns. That is perhaps because it was never cast from the same mold as other synthetic habitats of Israel’s first two decades.
Straddling the line between the Judean Desert and the Negev’s northeast, Arad’s first residents in 1962 were carefully chosen to include only “suitable professionals.”
This meant that many of its founders were veteran Israelis rather than immigrants from the third world who were in those years dispatched to the periphery by bureaucratic edit.
Thus Arad started out as a model development town, flourishing and relatively well-to-do.
But that advantage has all but evaporated. Gradually Arad had been reduced to the status of yet another town far from economic and cultural hubs, and hard-put to provide the most basic incentives to keep its sons and daughters from gravitating to the Coastal Plain. Today Arad cannot ensure gainful employment for long-time inhabitants, never mind the younger generation.
Doubtless, towels can be produced more cheaply abroad.
Chinese workers demand even less than Jordanians, to say nothing of those in the Indian subcontinent. We have seen our textile and plastics plants mercilessly migrate away over the past 20 years.
These plants all had names and workers. The bottom line is that the IDF’s uniforms and footgear are made abroad. Most Israeli flags are made in China, as are the most of Jewish state’s supposed souvenirs, religious artifacts (such as Hanukka menorahs) and even the state emblem.
The notion of protecting local manufacturing, of saving remote towns from a slow terminal decline, is a nonstarter in politically correct discourse. The current trendy slogans about shoring up the status of middle class families quite clearly does not extend to the working class in more remote regions.
Protectionism has become one of the dirtiest words in the socioeconomic dictionary ever since the advent of globalism. It has come to denote only government policies that restrict international commerce in order to protect businesses and jobs from foreign rivalry.
This can involve tariffs on imports, import quotas or subsidies that narrow competition to domestic products.
Such practices are not only frowned upon by foreign trading partners, but even more vociferously by local consumers who aspire to pay less, regardless of the price paid in places such as Arad.
The dilemma is genuine. No government wants to be held to ransom by extortionist manufacturers that treat entire communities as hostages. No government wants its electorate to resent high consumer prices.
But is there really no golden mean between the disastrous options? Has globalization made our society, and others like it, so indifferent to the genuine outcry of its own workers? Is there no alternative but to throw them to the dogs? Are issues of national security and social well-being not to be considered? The fact is that even in this era of globalization the more responsible among the governments still find ways of shielding fragile communities and weak and critical sectors. It can be as simple as having the government or linked affiliates buy from endangered plants.
Not least, we ought to think about where production is cheaper and why. Are we to compete with manufacturers that pay starvation wages or employ child labor under slave-like conditions?