Sunday, November 14, 2010

Opposition to Globalization is Not That Sophisticated

Robert Lighthizer suggests that the Tea Party is opposed to free trade, and that its opposition could create problems for the political parties.
At first glance, the Tea Party’s position may seem contradictory: its small-government, pro-business views usually go hand in hand with free trade. But if you consider the dominant themes underlying its agenda, it makes sense that the movement would be wary about free-trade policies. For starters, Tea Partyers are frustrated with Washington, and that includes its failure to make free trade work for America. Our trade deficit in manufactured goods was about $4.3 trillion during the last decade, and the country lost some 5.6 million manufacturing jobs.
The anti-free trade sentiments of the Tea Party movement, and similar movements that came before it, is focused on that last word alone - jobs. Anti-free trade, anti-globalization movements gain steam when people perceive that "They're taking our jobs". (The same thing is presently inspiring heightened opposition to immigration, and the rash of demands for strong action against illegal immigration.) When jobs are plentiful and pay reasonably well, most people have better things to worry about - and, frankly, would just as soon continue to be able to buy cheap imported junk at the local Walmart.

If the economy and job market recover, free trade and globalization will again become a background issue, important to some voters but not at a level that's going to much concern our nation's political leaders. And that's before considering the amount of money and influence behind globalization. If the economy and job market remain bad then, yes, popular opposition is likely to continue and perhaps grow. That could create problems for the political parties, but I still wouldn't expect any anti-globalization legislation. The powerful interests that want globalization haven't gone away, and we already have sufficient dependence on globalized markets that "unringing the bell" would both be very complicated and take many, many years. To the extent that there is "a fundamental reorientation of our country’s attitude toward trade and globalization," I expect it to be rhetorical - politicians making anti-globalization statements when running for office, but continuing with business as usual after being elected.

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