Global Rising of the Suits


Tina Fey

I learned from my teaching days that many lawyers are really frustrated would-be screenwriters, so they have that in solidarity.

Pakistan’s lawyers certainly win the points for enthusiasm, though. The WGA’s riot meter appears to be stuck on “Golf Spectator.” Even the Today Show drowned them out. I’m not advocating they take it all the way up to “Molotov” level (publicly), but they could at least dial it up to “Boston Red Sox Fans.” Maybe “Crowd at TRL”?



  1. Gavin
    Posted November 7, 2007 at 7:40 pm | Permalink | Reply

    hey, interesting post — there’s also the recent uaw strikes —

    anyway, it’s interesting that with all these strikes, the screenwriters appear to be in a good bargaining position as immaterial labor (see hardt and negri and michael denning) that cannot be outsourced because they are performing cultural work…

  2. Posted November 8, 2007 at 12:23 am | Permalink | Reply

    The screenwriters are also interesting viewed in terms of Adam Smith’s arguments on division of labor. John Cassidy discussed this from a free trade/outsourcing perspective, explaining the idea of ‘absolute advantage’ and “comparative advantage” in the August 2, 2004 issue of the New Yorker: Free trade allows countries to concentrate on what they make better than other countries, but comparative advantage says that even if a country is better than everyone else in a number of industries, it would still be in its best interest to concentrate only on its most efficient one and import everything else, even if it does them better.

    What is America best at? Movies. Ergo, our economic mandate is to move all American workers into the entertainment industry and import the rest. Our collective future is screenwriting.

    I’m going to quote the relevant passage, but for now you can access the entire cached article at

    Coincidentally it brings in the auto industry for comparison at the end.

    … it was Adam Smith who developed the argument that the unfettered exchange of goods and services allows individuals to specialize in what they do best, thereby raising over-all income and prosperity. “The taylor does not attempt to make his own shoes, but buys them of the shoemaker,” Smith wrote in “The Wealth of Nations,” which was published in 1776. “The shoemaker does not attempt to make his own clothes but employs a taylor.” It may seem remarkable that economists still refer to the work of a Scottish radical who didn’t even call himself an economist-his title at Glasgow University was professor of moral philosophy-but the division of labor, which is what Smith was talking about, lies at the heart of outsourcing and offshoring. (The two phrases once had distinct meanings, but now they are used interchangeably.)

    Smith took the logic of specialization and applied it to the international market, arguing that no country should produce anything it could import more cheaply from abroad. “What is prudence in the conduct of every private family can scarcely be folly in that of a great kingdom,” he wrote. This analysis implied that countries should concentrate on industries in which they are the low-cost producer, or, in the language of today’s economists, industries in which they have an “absolute advantage” over foreign competitors.

    A classic example involved Lancashire textile mills, which exploited the damp climate of northern England, and Portuguese vineyards, which prospered in the southern sun. In the presence of prohibitive tariffs on imports and exports, which were widespread at the time Smith was writing, England would have been forced to make its own wine (or go without), and Portugal would have had to manufacture cloth, which would have wasted valuable resources. But if free trade was introduced each country could concentrate on its strength, with England exchanging its surplus cloth for Portugal’s surplus wine, to the benefit of consumers in both places.

    The principle of absolute advantage is relatively easy to understand, and economists cite it all the time in an attempt to alleviate concerns about outsourcing. “The benefits from new forms of trade, such as in services, are no different from the benefits from traditional trade in goods,” the Council of Economic Advisers said in its testimony to Congress earlier this year. “When a good or service is produced at lower cost in another country, it makes sense to import it rather than produce it domestically. This allows the United States to devote its resources to more productive purposes.”

    However, some types of offshoring are not so easy to rationalize. American insurance firms are hiring workers in countries like India to process customer claims. Yet many of the Americans who are being displaced are well-educated and productive employees who could probably do the job better than their Indian counterparts. Why, then, does this sort of trade benefit the United States? David Ricardo, another ancient British economist, answered this question in “Principles of Political Economy and Taxation,” which was published in 1817, and it is his defense of free trade that Mankiw and his colleagues rely on to this day. Where Smith argued that nations gain by exporting goods which they can make more cheaply than other countries, Ricardo said that trade between countries makes sense even if one of the countries is the low-cost producer in every industry.

    Suppose, he said, that in Portugal it takes ninety workers to make cloth and eighty workers to make wine, whereas in England cloth production requires a hundred workers and wine production requires a hundred and twenty. Then, assuming wages are the same in both countries, Portugal has an “absolute advantage” in wine and cloth. Should it still trade with England? Yes, said Ricardo. Compared with each other, he pointed out, Portugal’s vineyards are still more efficient than its textile mills. Therefore, it makes sense for the country to specialize in wine production, export what it doesn’t need, and import British cloth. Portugal’s “comparative advantage” lies in wine.

    Ricardo’s argument is subtle-Paul Samuelson, the great M.I.T. economist, once said that comparative advantage is the most difficult economic theory to grasp-but it is also extremely powerful. It implies that the United States shouldn’t try to keep hold of low-value businesses, such as insurance processing and telephone-call centers, even if its workers could operate them more efficiently than their counterparts in developing countries. Instead, it should concentrate on building up businesses like publishing and entertainment, where the displaced workers can be employed more productively. According to some estimates, the copyright business, which includes film, music, books, and software, accounts for about five per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, which means it is the biggest sector in the economy, bigger even than the auto industry. If the economists are to be believed, this is just as things should be: one industry that the United States used to dominate declines; another rises to take its place.

  3. savaime
    Posted February 5, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Very Interesting thesis. I will comment on this more later after I time to read through it a few times and think about it.

    From a Beautiful Mind (a movie!:)
    “Recall the lessons of Adam Smith, father of modern economics,” says one of Nash’s cohorts. “Individual ambition serves the common good. Every man for himself!”

    In a flash of revelation, the brilliant Nash disagrees.

    “Adam Smith needs revision,” he says.


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