Menacing oil costs could filter jobs back to U.S.

With widespread angst about our increasingly sketchy economic stability (tied to devaluation of the dollar, increasing unemployment and other economic indicators), it’s often difficult to maintain optimism.

It’s always hard to put a positive spin on an international crisis, but should we consider escalating global oil prices as a potential boon to the U.S. economy — even at a time when our society verges on the edge of returning to the horse and buggy days of early-American lore? Or worse still, walking?

At least some economists tend to think so. A new chapter is being scribed in the tome of modern globalization, which has led to outsourcing more than 40 million jobs during the past 20-plus years. The new entry is one that indicates manufacturing and industry could be returning to North America as a result of skyrocketing international freight costs. A trend labeled “reverse globalization” was recently identified as perhaps a financial sheep in wolf’s clothing by Canadian economists.

In a recent report by the Canadian “New Brunswick Business Journal,” rising freight expenses resulting from climbing oil prices are forcing manufacturers to rethink and redirect corporate strategies inward. Citing that goods and materials transport charges from China to Canada spiked from $4,000 to $6,000 per cargo container during the past year, the article infers that commerce must suck in its guts to survive and have products once again homemade.

A recent ABC News report estimates that the cost of shipping a container from Shanghai to New York has leaped from $3,000 to $8,000 since 2000, when oil was priced at around $20 per barrel. Compounding those goods movement expenses with a weakened U.S. dollar, as well as higher wage demands in foreign labor markets like China and Mexico, and ballooning oil prices (currently above $142 per barrel) might be a perfect storm for a return to domestic production. As economist Jeff Rubin translates, “Cheap labor in China doesn’t help you when you gotta pay so much to bring the goods over.”

Controversies surrounding the philosophical and sociological effects of globalization have dominated more than one international headline since the late 1990s. Who can forget the protest-turned-riot in Seattle during the 1999 World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference that saw more than 1,000 demonstrators and cops injured, not to mention the hundreds who got busted?

Liberals, labor unions, anarchists and conservatives alike have been on a moderately similar page in decrying globalization, even though many of the chapter titles have seemed rather dyslexic at times.

The left has seen globalization as a form of corporate and political elitism that would place undeveloped nations at a distinct disadvantage, while the right has predicted the Armageddon of Western civilization. Ironically, the truth probably rests somewhere in the middle.

One thing is certain: The U.S. is no longer sitting in the driver’s seat of the globalization debate. We’re definitely feeling the crunch and realizing thinner wallets in California, with average gas prices hovering like a starving vulture.

Fettered forecasts are that we haven’t hit pain at the pump apogee, yet, with current speculation we could hit $7 per gallon by next year; a prediction that makes us want to open a vein. While noting that higher crude prices won’t be the panacea for solving our economic woes, we can hope s a brighter side of reverse globalization by once again finding nostalgic “Made in America” labels and more jobs.

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