By Thomas Armbruster
Protectionist Rhetoric & Ideology: Unlikely to Help the American Worker
Globalization is comprised of three elements: goods, capital, and labor. Go to your nearest supermarket, you will view twenty plus countries’ products represented within easy reach. A store manager’s ability to showcase the desired products for consumers, irrespective of the origin of the products occurs as a result of the free flow of goods. When you go to Best Buy and pick a new TV, most likely it was made in China, and therefore, somebody in China got paid for the production of such a product. The free exchange of goods and capital provides American consumers with choice. The final component of capitalism, labor, tends to generate the most issues. Most Americans accept and even appreciate the free flow of goods and capital, but the free flow of labor, ignites the most heated globalization debates.
Globalization Creates Winners and Losers
Globalization made a number of international companies extremely rich by providing consumers ready access to cheaper merchandise. Resultantly, some American workers now find fewer opportunities for themselves within the United States. Issues brought to the attention of politicians include the anxiety of workers spurred by economic jolts, minimal raises, and fewer guarantees for healthcare and retirement as companies take more part time workers. Increasingly, a larger number of politicians are now standing up against international trade agreements. Although the loss of jobs is real, taking a stance against globalization and free trade deals is misguided and dangerous. Trade agreements, like NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) are negotiated by American experts seeking to gain more global access for American goods. In addition, they raise international environmental standards, so American companies remain competitive and do not have to outsource to countries with lesser standards, in turn promoting human rights allowing consumers to slip on Nikes knowing they were not assembled by children. Trade agreements should not be the target, improving American human capital should be the ultimate focus.
Promoting American labor and manufacturing
Instead of resorting to anti-trade and anti-globalization activism, it would be prudent for politicians and concerned citizenry to properly fund trade delegations and trade shows, while encouraging American companies to partner with American Embassies around the world.
America remains a great brand internationally. Due to regulations like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the world knows American businesses provide products living up to high consumer standards. Unfortunately, America underplays its hand overseas. Yes, Coke is everywhere and American movies still set the box office standard, but there are a multitude of mid-sized American companies which have not lived up to their highest potential on the global stage.
International students who have studied in America often go on to great leadership roles in their home countries. Programs designed to send Americans abroad should be just as robust in an effort to make American workers more competitive. This effort will and should take time. The expectation should not elicit immediate change, but should be a mental shift that changes how we teach our citizens and workers, making them global competitors, internationally connected and more engaged in world affairs.
In order for America to compete and win in today’s globalized world, citizens and politicians alike must revisit visa policies and alter them to attract those people we actually need to help make our country more successful. One way to alter such policies could include categorization based on skill set, job, or need including: nurses, doctors, or engineers. Once categories are created, then recruiting heavily around the globe for the best in each. Such an approach could improve the American labor pool, making the American workforce more educated, worldly, diverse, and hence competitive. Resultantly, American international companies can and should champion the global stage, showcasing American standards.
This election season brought the concepts of protectionism, Brexit, building walls, and opposition to TPP from and center in America. Sanders, Clinton, and Trump have all benefited from protectionist rhetoric, but ultimately protectionism will not solve the underlying cause of disenfranchisement of the American worker, and protectionism will prove to be harmful and shortsighted. The bottom line, planet earth is the marketplace. If we raise the “drawbridge” as President Obama says and crawl into our shell, we’ll simply poke our heads out later only to find that the world has moved on, written its own set of international rules, leaving us less competitive with a lower GDP, and in even lesser standing on the global stage.
Thomas Armbruster is an OpsLens Contributor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In his long career as an American diplomat, Thomas Armbruster served as the Consul General at the U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok, Russia, Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan, Principal Officer at the U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Political Affairs Officer and Nuclear Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia; and Vice Consul at the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Cuba. Prior to joining the Foreign Service, he was a reporter for the CBS affiliate KGMB-TV in Hawaii. Mr. Armbruster holds a B.A. from McDaniel College, an M.A. from St. Mary’s University, and an M.S. from the Naval War College.
This article was originally posted at Geostrategists.com