America: Raising Those Free Trade Walls

I'm ashamed of my fellow countrymen who would rather blame free trade for their woes than look at all the benefits they've realized from globalization. After all, name me one other country outside the West where those at the bottom end of the spectrum have an excess of calories, can afford -- perhaps uninsured, albeit -- to drive a car, and consider large-screen TVs with cable or satellite a God-given right. The reason that these folks can afford such luxuries is largely due to the benefits of free trade, making the cost of such items affordable -- at least within reason. I'm sure if you were to explain to these people why they have such luxuries, they'd come around to the benefits of trade.

But if you read the headlines -- like the above-linked Fortune article -- you'd have a hard time realizing that this is a country whose lower and lower-middle class quality of life is built almost entirely on the benefits of free trade. According to the story, "A large majority -- 68% -- of those surveyed in a new Fortune poll says America's trading partners are benefiting the most from free trade, not the U.S. That sense of victimhood is changing America's attitude about doing business with the world." As a result, "today we are turning inward" and "especially now, as the U.S. economy sputters, we are on the verge of becoming a country of economic nationalists."

You can imagine how aspiring Presidential candidates would try to take advantage of these protectionist sentiments. In recent weeks, both Obama and Clinton have called for "time-out" periods to evaluate the merits of free trade. But rhetoric like this will do little to stem the fact that without free trade, it's unlikely that their voting support base could afford the luxuries that they've come to take for granted in life. But don't tell them that. Let them discover it for themselves, as the dollar declines even more after we begin to close ourselves off to the world outside (which, thanks to the market for U.S. manufacturing exports, is just about the only thing keeping us out of a nasty, long-term recession, if you haven't noticed).

- Jason Busch

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