Protectionism and National Security
A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves. ~Wendell Berry
There’s an irony in the economics debate that strikes me every time I attempt to reconcile myself with the notions of free trade, globalism, and open borders – namely, that while our leaders thump their fists and beat the drums of national security, they do nothing of the sort in terms of job security. The very notion of protectionism sets off so many alarm bells, one gets the impression that protecting work is the worst of all evils that could befall this country. Free trade or no trade at all!
Ironically, not only do many of these leaders beat their national security drums, they beat their nativist drums as well. Exporting jobs is a good thing, while importing cheap labor is a bad thing. This doesn’t compute with me because the jobs we export tend to be really good jobs in manufacturing or service, whereas the jobs taken by imported illegal workers are generally rather bad jobs, often washing dishes or cooking in second-rate diners and fast food franchises. Odd that the loss of these jobs raises such a hue and cry while the loss of American manufacturing is hailed as progress.
In any case, I think that Americans by and large would prefer to keep their good jobs and manufacturing base and national resources here in the States. This is one of those areas where the policies of the American leadership are 180 degrees in opposition to general sentiment. The only thing that has kept us all so pacified and in favor of the many-splendored promises of free trade and globalism, whilst watching our best blue collar jobs fade into history, have been the bubbles of the past few decades – tech, housing, etc. Now we’re suddenly come face to face with the disaster of economic policies that enrich the financier class and the executive class while cutting the working class out at their knees.
I favor protectionism with strings attached. I favor protecting our auto industry and then demanding in return that they meet standards of quality and efficiency. There’s no reason that with the right carrots and sticks we couldn’t have created a much healthier domestic auto industry. And surely foreign auto makers could have remained competitive. I know this is all difficult, but it’s necessary. I know the example of the agricultural protections gets a lot of people up in arms, but I truly fear the day when America becomes dependent not only on foreign manufactured goods but food as well. It’s important for every nation that can produce their own food, to produce their own food, and I believe the same about manufacturing. This is, ironically, every bit a matter of national security, just as finding ways to produce our own energy is. We should not be reliant on the energy, machines, or bread of other nations. W e should be self-reliant. And of course, I prefer the small business to the giant corporation. I wish there was a way to save our small farmers, and end the agribusiness regime. I’m not sure how to do it. I just don’t think the fruits of rampant capitalism taste as good when they come from these massive farms instead of our local growers.
I know the arguments against this, against limits and protection. Cheaper labor, cheaper goods, more wealth, etc. etc. But I think a nation that’s lost its builders, its carpenters, its laborers, its blue collar workers, its middle class, becomes a nation ready for collapse. We become morally bankrupt, and literally bankrupt as well, as our entire system becomes one reliant upon debt and growth. There is a missing piece in all of this free trade econo-speak, and that is the moral element, the question of good, civil order and proportion. Free trade is a beautiful theory that we’ve embraced far too quickly. The danger is real, and felt even more painfully in the “developing” nations we pretend we are helping; more in the middle class than the upper class; more in our souls than in our wallets, though maybe there now, too. Globalization sounds fantastic, and is in its potential to bring information and culture together. But in practice it simply doesn’t function the way it does in theory.
It leaves most people behind, struggling to catch up in a too-fast world. It kills the local in favor of the global, the community in favor of the individual. It leaves the Earth behind in favor of that great American battle-cry: “Progress!”