I was at a foreign policy conference over the weekend and one of the biggest concerns expressed was the rapid decline in support of free trade in America. Surprisingly, this decline in support is falling fastest among richer Americans:
poll shows that among Americans making more than $100,000 a year, support for actively promoting more free trade collapsed from 57% to less than half that, 28%
Very scary. this is a big cause of concern as it will hamper the variety of free trade deals in the works.
See the article and Poll: Free trade loses backers
I suspect some of this is due to the very mixed message given on Free Trade both by the current administration and political leaders in general. It is rare to hear principled defence of Free Trade – instead the focus appears to be protectionism (semi-lite) – see the sugar & steel lobbies for just two recent examples.
Hope Street Group, a non-partisan policy thinktank, recently posted a discussion about free trade and security on their blog – http://www.hopestreetgroup.org/blog/archives/000183.html#more
Such discourse, however, is increasingly rare. I wonder if in part it is due to the rising capacity and skill levels across industries of the rest of the world? Which means that “free trade” can really mean competition from overseas firms for most aspects of US business, not just basic raw materials and light manufacturing, but also services, design, and innovation?
Personally I think the world as a whole would be safer, healthier, and happier with real free trade. Reducing structural barriers on competition, while not always pretty in the short term, leads to long term ties between nations, much lower redundant overlaps or wasteful uses of resources (for example shifting food production to regions of the world well suited for particular plants, or at least buying from suppliers closer by instead of halfway across the world – thinking of the case of Europe buying more food from Africa instead of former Carribean colonies).
Free Trade these days can be scary to many, but I think it is also a powerful tool for growth and higher standards of living, as well as increased security, which we should certainly focus greater attention (and rhetoric) on supporting.