Free Trade under Fire

Free Trade under Fire

Free Trade under Fire

Free Trade under Fire

Excerpt

Free trade, one of the greatest blessings which a government can confer on a people, is in almost every country unpopular.
—Thomas Babington Macaulay (1824)

Nearly two centuries after Macaulay made it, this observation by one of Britain's great historians still rings true. Growing world trade has helped lift standards of living around the world, and yet today, as in Macaulay's time, free trade does not win many popularity contests. Indeed, public opinion surveys in the United States and Europe reveal increasing skepticism about the benefits of international trade and trade agreements. Trade policy remains a highly controversial subject, a source of neverending public debate.

In almost every country, international trade brings out anxieties and insecurities. With each passing decade, some of the old fears about trade recede and new ones take their place. In the 1980s, many Americans were convinced that Japan would achieve economic dominance by wiping out industry after industry in the United States, from automobiles to semiconductors to supercomputers, and thereby diminish America's position in the world. In the 1990s, many feared that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would result in a “giant sucking sound” of jobs lost to Mexico due to its low wages. Others protested in the streets of Seattle in late 1999 against the World Trade Organization (WTO) for its promotion of free trade and alleged indifference to the world's workers and environment. Now, in the first decade of the twentyfirst century, concern has shifted to China and India. China has become a goliath in the production of manufactured goods, and—it is often argued—responsible for stagnant wages in the United States. Meanwhile the offshoring of white-collar jobs (from call centers to software . . .

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