Lecture 15: Why is globalization becoming more unpopular?
Introduction: Globalization and contemporary politics
. The burden of the course so
far has been that free trade increases the wealth of the world’s economy, because it enables the
world’s productive resources to be employed more efficiently. In fact, it increases the wealth of
the country that practices it regardless of whether other countries are also free traders, and the
same is true of openness to immigration and to international investment.
But contemporary politics have running exactly the other way. The first contemporary
politician who tried to build a career based on opposition to free trade was Pat Buchanan, an
ultra-right winger who ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1992. Buchanan was
defeated, but he was joined in his anti-free trade platform by the American labor movement,
which solidly opposed NAFTA in 1993. Since then, Buchanan on the right has been joined by
people on the far left like Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader. Because the labor movement is one
of the Democrats’ core constituencies, even though NAFTA was supported by the Clinton White
House, the strongest opponents of NAFTA were the Democratic leaders in the House of
Representatives. About one-third of the House Democrats joined two-thirds of House
Republicans to pass NAFTA.
Since then, the anti-trade forces in the Democratic party have gotten much stronger. In
2004, the Presidential candidacy of John Edwards was largely based on an anti-free trade
platform, and Kerry ended up adopting Edwards’ anti-trade plank and putting Edwards on the
ticket, even though Kerry had previously had a record of supporting free trade in the Senate. In
2005, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), whose effects are completely
negligible as far as the U.S. domestic economy is concerned, attracted the support of only 15
House Democrats, where NAFTA had attracted almost 100. This year, all Democratic
presidential candidates had to denounce NAFTA as a matter of course, and a proposed trade
treaty with Colombia, the most pro-American country in South America, can’t get through
Congress. All this reverses the politics of fifty years ago, when the Democrats tended to be more
free-trade than the Republicans, and were supported in their free-trade predilections by organized
labor. Something has happened to bring about this reversal, which has taken place
simultaneously with the era of globalization, and so simultaneously with the increase in
cosmopolitanism, trade and average wealth that globalization has brought.