The Rising Tide of Protectionism and Nationalism

2016 is shaping up to be one for the history books in no small part to yesterdays referendum held in Great Britain.  In case you were unaware, the UK citizens voted in favoring of leaving the European Union.  The ‘Brexit’ or British Exit was not expected to happen by most think tanks and caught the rest of the world off guard.  Supporters of Brexit believe that it will help to ‘Take Back Their Country”.  Does that sound slightly familiar for USA citizens?  It should, the Republican nominee for President uses a very similar “Make America Great Again” slogan.

The growing popularity of nationalism, both here at home, and abroad is a step in the wrong direction in my opinion.  Most supporters of such a mentality favor decreased immigration, more isolationism, and a feeling that their culture, country, land, people are the best.  The last time that dozens of countries had this boisterous attitude, there was a colossal world war.

The opposite of Nationalism is Globalism.  In Globalism the borders between countries blur or disappear altogether.  If you are a Star Trek fan and like the idea of living in the Star Trek universe, then Globalism is for you.  The European Union was founded with the ethos of Globalism.  The thought was that if all of the European countries were united together in trade and citizens could freely move about between countries, then another catastrophic war could be avoided.

In the Brexit case, the primary motivator was immigration.  The civil war in Syria has created millions of refugees.  These refugees aren’t malevolent individuals.  Sure, there might be a few bad apples in the mix, but for the most part they are just families, or broken families, trying to get away from atrocities.  Part of the reason why Shae and I travel internationally is to learn about other cultures and peoples.  Men and women, infants and children, jobs and bills, for all intents and purposes they are the same as us.  Sure they may speak a different language, have a different skin tone, and may even worship a different god or no god at all, but they are still human beings.  Immigration is a wonderful thing.  Immigrants bring fresh blood to the workforce, new talents, creativity, a drive to improve, and a can-do-attitude.  By the second or third generation, they’ve been assimilated into the country and speak the language and have adopted the culture.

Adopting a xenophobic attitude, like the one that Brexit supporters or the Republican nominee, have adapted is short sighted and fool hardy.  Look no further than Japan, a deeply xenophobic country with tight immigration laws.  Like many developed nations, Japan’s birthrate has hovered at or below replacement rate for the past two decades.  Without young immigrants feeding into the Japanese economy, the native youngsters have had to sustain a larger aging population.  The result has been a stagnant economy for decades.

On the same side of the Nationalism coin, is Protectionism.  Protectionism is when a country tries to help domestic companies sell their products by blocking foreign competitors.  Governments pursuing a protectionism agenda can accomplish this by taxing foreign imports at obscene levels.  Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have run their campaigns on a protectionism platform.  “Made In USA” is their rally cry.  Protectionism in my opinion is a poor grasp at turning the clock back 50 years.  America enjoyed a golden period after WW2 where every other major industrialized nation was in ruins.  Now, 65 years later, other countries have rebuilt and American companies face stiff competition.  This is the new reality, and there is no turning back the clock.  What these two candidates have failed to mention is that if Free Trade is sliced up with protectionist tariffs, the result goes both ways.  Trading partners such as Mexico, Canada, and China would be just as likely to retaliate with their own tariffs.  Nobody wins in a trade war, least of all consumers.

We all live in the same spot.  It’s time to start acting like it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.