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Americans Increasingly Skeptical of Globalization, Free Trade

Americans have become increasingly interested in, and worried about,  global trends over the last few years. This should not come as a surprise, considering we have been in the middle of a deep recession, and have been seeing high unemployment at the same time as job outsourcing and high trade deficits. The one thing that is clear is that Americans care about these problems, albeit several years late.

According to a recent Washington Post article referencing a poll from January, only around a third of Americans view globalization as a positive development for the country. The poll coincided with the timing of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland where world leaders in business, government, and civil society had a wide ranging discussion of current events and issues facing the world. A similar poll conducted about a decade ago showed different views, with around 60% of respondents viewing economic globalization as a positive phenomenon for America. A few years later that number dropped to below half viewing globalization in a positive light.

Polling numbers for Republicans have shown an even more drastic decrease. Over the course of a decade, the number of Republicans viewing globalization as positive dropped from 57% down to just over a quarter at 27%. Democrats and Independents also have changed their view of globalization, although not as drastically as Republicans have. Their polling data has shown that they have experienced a 22% drop in the span of a decade.

This poll also highlights another trend – one which researchers in economics and international affairs have seen for a long time – which is that what happens to the global economy has an affect on America. You used to only hear sayings like what happens on Wall Street affects Main Street (and vise versa), but now that truth can be expanded to what happens in rural villages in Africa/Asia/Latin America affects all of America. Given the state of the global economy, it is not surprising that you see such pessimistic numbers. China still has a rapidly growing and expanding economy which will eventually eclipse the GDP of the US. This has made Americans increasingly nervous about their own economic security and future. Unfortunately, over the last decade, global trade and economic interconnectedness have brought diminished returns to America, and have instead benefited large multinational companies with access to cheaper labor, growing markets, and low tariffs for imported goods in their supply chain.

In looking at a macro perspective around the global economy, globalization has not been a terrible phenomenon. It has allowed once poor countries like India, Brazil, China, and others to become emerging market economies. These countries have experienced a real and significant rise in individual income and opportunities, which has led to a significant reduction in poverty and extreme poverty. I do not want to overstate this point; there still are many development challenges facing the growing emerging market economies, in particular inequality, labor concerns, and financial sector shortcomings. However, it is my opinion that, despite these challenges, the future of development for these countries is a lot more optimistic because of globalization.

What about America? At the start of globalization, everything seemed to look particularly bright for the American economy. America was leading a technological and communications revolution which helped bring about globalization. Trade agreements were viewed favorably by most Americans as it brought better access for American products and services to the global market, and in turn allowed us to buy cheaper products from the developing world. While declining support for public opinion of globalization can be explained away with factors such as the recession, and trade imbalances, what is causing America to benefit less from globalization? One thing that is clearly a problem is America’s competitiveness. This isn’t necessarily a labor cost specific factor, but rather a shift from what made America the leader during the early days of globalization. Years ago, America’s investments in research and development of technology paid dividends for the economy and the country’s economic standing remained very high. However, a general lack of technological breakthroughs and a decrease in research have contributed to the declining positive benefits of globalization.

Additionally, America is suffering from a vacuum of public leadership on economic issues. Despite President Obama’s proposals during the State of the Union calling for increased investment in infrastructure and science and technological research, we have lacked a national plan to keep up with growing educational attainment and technical advancements from emerging market economies. This idea is consistent with the respondents from the Washington Post poll – the vast majority of those polled across party lines have little to no confidence in leaders of either party coming up with ideas to meet global economic challenges America faces in the future.

As students, young professionals, and future leaders we must take action to make sure that globalization works for the betterment of America and the world. Globalization has the opportunity to bring people together and solve the challenges of an interconnected world, reduce poverty, increase public health and quality of life, and make major breakthroughs in science and technology happen. However, without making globalization work for all countries, these results may never be achieved.

About Marshall Kirby

Marshall is a graduate of Mount Saint Mary's University in Maryland where he studied political science and international relations with a focus on international organizations. As a student at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Pubic and International Affairs he studied International Development with a focus on international financial flows such as foreign direct investment and remittances. Marshall's interest in international financial policy stems from his belief that with proper governance from international organizations the global economy will be strong and lead to growth and increased prosperity for all.

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One comment

  1. While I would agree that American leadership sucks, the rest of your article is pure rubbish. We outspend almost every other country in R&D in various industries. Ask the French, that is why they have schools specifically designed to teach the art of industrial espionage (manly targeting America).

    And actually, it is a labor cost thing. I can’t believe you …{edited} just casually toss that argument aside. Labor is the number one cost for most of the manufacturing jobs in the US. Just ask yourself, if it isn’t, how about passing a global minimum wage? Heck even make it something ridiculously low like 1.50 USD an hour and I bet you will see what the real driver of outsourcing is.

    And yes, make Globalism work. Force our competitors to the same labor standards that we have domestically. Use access to are market as a tool. Withdraw from treaties that might hinder that. Balance trade. Force compensation for intellectual property theft. I dare you. Also realize the economic competitiveness is one of several national goals, others include national security, financial stability, keeping people fed, holding corporations accountable, making sure our political system doesn’t become merely an arm of transnational banking interest, etc…

    {rest of comment edited}