Globalization is under attack and nationalism is on the rise. The evidence includes the election of Donald Trump. But what is this globalization these people are so opposed to?
After 1945 – following the Great Depression and two world wars – Western nations established an international system of rules that honored national sovereignty, facilitated the flourishing of global commerce, and encouraged respect for human rights and liberties. This liberal international order resulted in the longest period of peace among the world’s major powers the world had ever seen, broad-based economic growth that created large middle classes in the West, the revival of Europe, growth in poor countries that lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and the spread of freedom across the globe. This is the liberal international order that I largely support.
What exactly is under attack and what is on the rise? In a very insightful article in the National Review, Michael Lind characterizes the globalist view as follows: “In the 1970s and 1980s, libertarians made all of the major arguments heard from globalists since the 1990s: Favoring citizens over foreign nationals is the equivalent of racism; national borders impeding the free flow of labor and goods are both immoral and inefficient; the goal of trade and immigration policy should not be the relative security or relative wealth of particular countries, but the absolute economic well-being of all human beings.”
What about the rise of nationalism in relation to globalism? I believe strongly in the economic benefits of the freest possible global trade, but it would be a mistake to overlook or ignore the concerns of those who oppose it. In this note, I attempt to restate the case for freer trade in terms that should appeal to economic nationalists who wish American trade (and other) policies to reflect the interests of Americans first (before taking into account the benefits to the rest of the world). I also reflect on the international rules of trade from the perspective of the sovereignty concerns of nationalists, or what economist Larry Summers calls “responsible nationalism.” Voters deserve responsible nationalism not reflex globalism.
I was forced to think more carefully about the case for freer trade by the opposition to globalization expressed by many of Trump’s supporters. But I quickly discovered that my friend Michael Lind has been there before (see above) as has the brilliant social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who noted that “Those who dismiss anti-immigrant sentiment as mere racism have missed several important aspects of moral psychology related to the general human need to live in a stable and coherent moral order.”
Haidt’s closing words succinctly summarize our challenge: “The great question for Western nations after 2016 may be this: How do we reap the gains of global cooperation in trade, culture, education, human rights and environmental protection while respecting – rather than diluting or crushing – the world’s many local, national, and other “parochial” identities, each with its own traditions and moral order? In what kind of world can globalists and nationalists live together in peace?”
Immigration and trade are intimately linked – if Mexicans can make it in Mexico and export it to the U.S. they will be less interested in moving to the U.S. in order to build it there (in fact, net Mexican migration to the U.S. has been negative for the last few years) – and thus I will look at both.
The most promising starting point in my view is with the sovereignty of each American citizen. Unlike the Magna Carta, which wrested more autonomy for the people from the king, the free men and women of revolutionary America gave up a limited amount of their autonomy to a new state in order to better protect their property and individual rights. The direction of delegation was the exact opposite of what the world had ever seen before. It is not without profound significance that our Constitution begins with “We the people.”
Thus, it is quite appropriate to judge governmental authority and policies by the standard of how well they serve our individual sovereign interests. In evaluating those interests, it is appropriate to do so from the perspective of John Rawls’ veil of ignorance, i.e. principles of fairness – rules of the game – that we accept as fair without knowing which positions in society we will occupy. This is the perspective of free market, competitive capitalists and is opposite to the perspective of crony capitalists who exploit the power of government for their personal benefit.
We have surrendered limited (enumerated) powers to our governments (local, state, federal, etc.) in order to enjoy greater security and protection of our property, but also to support and protect our freedom to trade and to enjoy its benefits. No one really needs to be convinced that being able to specialize in what we make best and trade it for other things we need has enormously increased our wealth over being self-sufficient (no trade). No one needs to be convinced that by investing in tools and better technologies we have been able to produce more for trade and thus become wealthier. But investing and trading require common understandings with those with whom we trade – the rules of trade. We have long ago understood that we all benefit from giving up some of our sovereignty to our government to negotiate and enforce the agreed rules of trade, protect our property and mediate disputes over whether the rules were followed.
The simple act of entering into a contract with someone involves giving up the freedom to act as we want each moment in exchange for a similar commitment by our counterparty for the mutual benefit of both of us. Where the mutual benefits of such rules are greater than the cost of the forgone freedom of action, the agreement is a positive sum arrangement – win-win. Conforming to international product standards, e.g. adhering to standards of weights, measures, voltage, labeling, etc., facilitates trade. The key policy issues in this area are the nature and details of the rules of trade that best serve our personal interests (in the Rawlsian sense) and thus our community and national interests, and the extent of the market in which we are able to trade (village, province, nation, world).
The more widely we can trade, the greater is our opportunity to specialize in what we produce and to develop and apply more productive technologies.
Our founding fathers were rightly concerned about the power of the new American government to limit the right of its citizens to trade. In fact, the U.S. Constitution prohibited the states from interfering with trade across state borders (interstate commerce). Article I, Section 8 Clause of the Constitution states that the United States Congress shall have the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” While Congress has occasionally used this power to impose restrictions on trade across national borders, the majority of Americans (65 percent in 2015) still believe that cross-border (international) trade has been mostly good for the U.S. The wrong-headed effort to save American jobs during the Great Depression with high tariffs imposed by the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act of 1930 precipitated retaliatory tariffs around the world and a disastrous collapse of global trade and employment. U.S. imports and exports fell by more than half and the whole world was made poorer by it.
As noted above, the resulting increase in the world’s wealth from technical progress and trade has been enormous. But the incentive created by trade in a large market to innovate new products and more efficient ways to produce them has also meant that some of the existing products and/or technologies lose out and must give way to the improved ones. Those producing the old products and services are forced to find new ones and if necessary, new productive skills.
The United States has generally grown economically faster than most other countries, in part because its citizens have not been willing to allow those who lose out in such competition to block progress by the “winners” by protecting their products and jobs. The ultimate willingness of Americans to accept and protect the dynamic economics of competitive national and global markets rests, I think, on the three pillars: maximum wealth creation, maximum opportunity for everyone (the chance to win at a fair game), and help for those who lose out.
Americans should only be willing to give up some of their personal sovereignty to their government when they gain more in exchange in the Rawlsian sense of a positive sum, fair game. We should impose the same conditions on the extension of the rules of trade beyond national boundaries. This is the standard by which bilateral, regional and global trade agreements should be judged. They have the largest potential for win-win expansions of mutual trade and the greater income and wealth that expanded trade can produce. The Bretton Woods institutions created after World War II (the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization) established the institutional arrangements for such international cooperation. It is important to ensure that such agreements do not increase the protection of “privileged” industries or sectors of the economy. In fact, they should diminish such protections where they already exist, which is why many European industries and interests oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Much of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has this positive character. American leadership in creating the international institutions through which we interact with others abroad, i.e., through which the rule of law is established and enforced internationally, has ensured that the international order has remained true to the values on which America was founded.
The evolution of man established the family as the unit of first and primary concern. The well being of one’s family stands above the interests of all others. However, the process of civilization has been one in which mechanisms of trust and mutual assistance have convinced individuals to yield some of their sovereignty to larger units (village, state, etc.) under conditions that strengthened the security and well being of family units. Globalization is the logical conclusion of such a process. It is the development of laws of cooperation and the mechanisms of their enforcement (i.e. the rule of law) that potentially raise the welfare of everyone. But the details of the expanding circles of cooperation are important and must not violate genuine national and family interests.
In listening to the views of many Trump supporters, I concluded that their anger and demand for big change derives from feelings that their government – especially the federal government – is not serving their legitimate interests and in fact is interfering with their lives without commensurate benefits. “The reason Mr. Trump won,” Steve Bannon says, “is not all that complicated. The data was overwhelming: This is a change election. People weren’t happy with the direction of the country. So all you had to do was to give people permission to vote for Donald Trump as an agent of change, and make sure he articulated that message.’”
So what are the Trump supporters mad about? What do they want to change? To the extent that they are concerned about the same things I am, it is that too much of our individual sovereignty has been taken by an overweening government, which has become a big brother who attempts to make our decisions for us for our own welfare. Our personal choices have increasingly been taken away from us and with them our opportunities. The “elites” have arranged the rules for their own benefit. It is no longer a fair game.
The weaknesses of current arrangements at the national level that seem to anger Trump supporters largely concern: a) regulatory capture of an over-extended regulatory state, b) inadequate provision of a level playing field and c) an inefficient and poorly designed safety net for the losers in the competitive game. Very briefly:
a) The crony capitalism reflected in President Eisenhower’s famous concerns with the risks of a military-industrial complex have metastasized into a much broader capture by legacy industries of a much more extensive government intrusion into the economy. Wherever government regulates (and some are actually helpful), the most affected, established firms are best placed to ensure that such regulations benefit rather than hurt them, usually by protecting themselves from the competition of newcomers. Wall Street comes to mind.
b) A level playing field. Good quality education (especially K-12) is one of the most important ways for the poor and initially disadvantaged to get into the productive economy and to rise as far as their talents and energy will take them. But the education provided to this group is often of poor quality. The iron grip of teachers’ unions has often served the interests of teachers at the expense of their students. School choice (tuition vouchers) would introduce badly needed competition in the provision of education to all – the poor as well as the rich (who already enjoy considerable choice).
c) An efficient safety net. When jobs disappear to technological advancements (e.g., increased automation), the affected workers and capital need to be reallocated to more productive uses. But this is economist speak. The workers involved often lose their human capital (i.e., their existing skills lose value in the market place) and need to retrain for new tasks. Older workers might never rebuild new skills sufficient to restore their previous incomes. Government policy should give more attention to vocational training (and retraining). But the ultimate safety net should be strengthened and redesigned by replacing existing welfare programs and social security with a guaranteed minimum income for each and every citizen (in the spirit of Milton Friedman’s negative income tax). US federal tax policy, Cayman Financial Review, July 2009.
Responsible nationalism and globalization
As Michael Lind observed earlier, America has been dividing into liberal internationalists like myself who live in the big urban centers, and civic nationalists, who live in the rest of the country. The civic, economic, responsible and just plain old nationalists seem to be reacting against their sense of a loss of control over their own lives. Big brother seems to be regulating more and more what we can do, say, produce or buy. Their opportunities are being thwarted by an unfair game – crony capitalism for the well-placed elites. This sense of a loss of control is compounded by concerns over the lack of control of our borders against undesirable immigrants and potential terrorists. While the assimilation of different cultures into the framework of basic American values of personal freedom and responsibility can be touchy and challenging at times, the finger pointing and pressure from the American left for full cultural integration feeds the fears of many of a loss of cultural, ethnic and religious identity.
When some groups receive preferential treatment, some other groups are necessarily discriminated against. While I have tried hard to accept the logic of “Black Lives Matter,” it always rubbed my sense of fair play the wrong way. All lives matter. Thus while I am saddened that it seems necessary to some white males (I am guessing they are males because that is what the press always says) to carry signs saying “White Lives Matter,” I can understand. If we need to say the one, we need to say the other if we still have any sense of fairness.
So there are plenty of things for Trump supporters to be angry about and to want to change. But now that we have him, what changes should we push for? I am particularly interested in changes that will reassure Trump’s angry voters to support American participation in the liberal global order. In evaluating what is in our national interest, we need to consider the long term rather than immediate benefits of a rule-based, freely competitive world order.
We should push for a thorough reform of our tax system, strengthen our safety net for those displaced by technology (by far the major source of job losses in the U.S.) and trade, and shift more of the regulation of commerce to the market (to consumers and owners), thus significantly reducing government regulation. We must also fashion an immigration policy that meets the needs of our economy without overwhelming the capacity of our society to absorb new members. Existing long-term, undocumented residents need to be offered a realistic path to legal status. But most of all, in fashioning these and other changes, we need to listen carefully and constructively to each other’s concerns and take them into account.