Globalization and Trade

Q: So how do you feel about globalization and the growth of international trade?

A: Hmm. I guess I would have to say lukewarm. I think it has been great for businessmen, but I don’t think it has been all that great for American workers or for people in foreign countries. [1]

Q: Would you say you favor free trade, or are you a protectionist?

A: I only get two options again? Look, I can see that there are a lot of benefits from trade. I know that I am paying lower prices at the store because of all that cheap labor overseas. But I also know that there are people here who are losing jobs because factories are going overseas. Now if you are going to force me to choose between low prices and the guy down the street losing his job, then I am going to have to say, I do not have the right to have that guy lose his job just so that I can get a cheaper pair of sneakers. [2] It’s not fair for some people to take the brunt if it so the rest of us can benefit. So yeah, let’s keep up some of those trade barriers. But that’s not really what I want to do. I know trade is basically a good thing and in the long run there ought to be a way for everybody to benefit.

Q: So what are you saying?

A: What I would really like is for the government to do more to help the guy down the street, help him find a job, give him some job training. If I really believed that the government was going to do that then I would say, yeah, let’s open things up. [3]

Q: But the things you are describing could take some time to implement. Don’t you realize that if we slow the growth of trade that this could slow the growth of the economy?

A: You know I don’t always just think about the growth of the economy. That’s very abstract. Of course I understand that when the economy grows, there is more money around and that can lead to good things. But there is also the human dimension. Those GNP numbers can’t count the cost of disruption in the lives of people. [4] And there’s also the human dimension of the overseas workers. I don’t like the idea of buying cheap products if they are made in sweatshops with bad working conditions. Something should be done about that. [5]

Q: But don’t you know that if the workers in those countries did not have those jobs, even if you might call them working in sweatshops, they might not have any job at all?

A: You know I don’t buy that kind of thinking. [6] I just think that if people are making clothes that I wear on my body, I have a responsibility to be sure that those workers are not being mistreated. [7]

Q: So how is that going to help?

A: Look, I don’t have this all figured out. But it seems to me that all of this trade is making a lot of money for businessmen everywhere, but not for workers. The rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. [8] So there is probably enough money around to help out all around. You know, we are always being told that trade is this wonderful thing and it generates so much wealth. But hey, where is it? Besides, sometimes you just have to take a stand for what is right, and hopefully the world will start acting right.

Q: So are you really saying that you would be willing to pay more for something just to make sure it was not made in a sweatshop?

A: Yes, I would. [9] Actually, it would probably be even better to make sure that when we agree to open up trade with a country, that we first make them promise to treat their workers right. [10] It’s not only the moral thing to do, [11] it’s also not fair for American workers to have to compete with workers who are being exploited. [XII] If we let that happen, it’s going to get worse for workers everywhere. Also, it would probably be a good idea too to make sure that if US companies go overseas, that they don’t get to lower their environmental standards. [13] If they can lower their standards, that would be bad for the environment and it would make it even harder for workers here at home to compete. [14]

Q: But by putting all these conditions on the growth of trade, aren’t you really just being a protectionist? Aren’t you just really trying to stop the growth of trade?

A: Well, you can call it what you like. I just don’t see that trade by itself is such a wonderful thing. [X15] In principle it can be, but it all depends on how it’s done. Over the last few decades while everybody has been going on and on about how wonderful the growth of trade has been, the average American workers’ wages aren’t really going up. And people in poor countries don’t seem like they are getting much better. [16] Meanwhile, the rich keep getting richer. So you tell me that taking better care of workers and the environment is going to slow down this ‘wonderful’ process, --(shrugs) so what? I’m not in any hurry. [17]

Q: So, overall, are you saying you want to put the brakes on new trade agreements? Do you think that the trade agreements we have made have been a mistake?

A: No, I didn’t say that. As a general rule, if another country says that it will lower its trade barriers if we will lower ours, then I am inclined to say, fine. [18] Basically, I think trade agreements are a good thing. [19] Even NAFTA is sort of okay with me. [20] I just think there are some other good things that need to be considered, and we should take these barriers down in a gradual and careful way so that these other concerns figure into the picture too. [21] Like, human rights is another thing. Like with China. I think we need to take a stand on that, and not just let the interests of the business people run everything. [22]