American political culture suffers from a unique failure of binary systems. Politics everywhere fall into this particular trap, but something about the American mindset makes it particularly prone to this pitfall and historically predisposed to it.
The tendency for a moralistic binary of “good” versus “bad,” completely ignores the modifying appendages which not only render nuance, but constitute real meaning.
Vox recently ran a piece about the one thing Donald Trump got right that economists got wrong. Beyond the clear attempt to bait their Left-leaning, young audience into clicking on something they expect to hate read, the contents of the article failed to actually measure up to the title. (Shockingly, we are finding that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.)
The sentence that caused me to lose faith in the direction of the piece came at the beginning of the third paragraph:
“For decades, experts have argued that freer trade is good for the US economy and downplayed the economic harms that trade can cause.”
Because the metric that the economists, and the metric the President-elect (or any isolationist, populist ideologue) is using are fundamentally different. From what I know about economists, they enjoy using numbers such as the gross domestic product (GDP), sometimes they dabble with employment (or unemployment) statistics, they’ll look at job growth by sector, or other such national measures of what can be termed “success” and “failure”.
We are still the foremost global economy, we have a ludicrous amount of wealth in natural resources, intellectual property, military technology, and many other areas.
The overall health of the US economy, ultimately, can be completely divorced from the actual economic situation of its citizens.
What the neoliberal elite have worked very hard to ensure is that when they say “free trade is good” no one asks “for whom?”
That having been said, I don’t actually feel comfortable falling in line with some of the increasingly prominent isolationist or anti-globalization factions of the Left. I believe that the free travel of people and information and ideas is actually a boon for humanity and a step in the right direction as we develop a global society.
I think the free movement of wealth, capital, and the political and economic elite is a disaster that is pushing the human race to the brink of self-annihilation. That the heads of national banks or large private wealth management companies can live in countries on the other side of the world away from their professional responsibilities (nearly always for reasons of tax evasion on their exorbitant salaries) is a disaster and an active contributing factor to the deterioration of both civil society and global economic stability.
With that in mind, I am a cautious proponent of global trade. But I’m not going to defend unregulated markets. Because unregulated (or “free”) markets are the means of stripping national and international communities of their resources and then leaving them behind without any structure of social support or security. It leads to unemployment, hunger, and limited or non-existent access to education, housing, and opportunities.
The recent campaign has taught us nothing that was not already known. It has merely shown that one set of lies is being replace by another, and that the people who make up the working flesh of this country and many others, will continue to be debased and destroyed by people who are willing to end the world to have the most stuff.