Economic Nationalism: Disaster Ahead

When Pat Buchanan and Jesse Jackson begin to sound like identical twins, it's time to listen. Despite their positions at the extreme wings of the Republican and Democratic parties, both men are voicing an economic nationalism that is increasingly crossing political boundaries. It is a message of populism and nationalism that is posited against the dominant economic ideology of globalism. Listen more closely to the rhetoric, and you'll detect a distinctly anticorporate bias.

To both the far right and far left, the main issue is who benefits? Who is benefitting from the expansion of market capitalism throughout Europe, Asia, and Latin America? It is a serious question and Corporate America can't simply dismiss it by chanting the mantra of free trade. Profits are performing too well and wages too poorly to get away with that politically for very long.

The simple solution for economic nationalists is protectionism: Raise tariffs, impose quotas, prevent corporations from moving capital and jobs overseas, and cancel treaties like NAFTA. In this way, they believe, the U.S. would lock the benefits of its economic growth inside its borders.

We believe that this kind of behavior would immediately lead to a global trade war and economic depression. The solution to stagnant wages is to improve the skills of the U.S. workforce. It is not fashionable these days to talk about the socioeconomic responsibilities of the corporation. But in an age when private institutions increasingly are being called on to do well the things that government has done poorly, corporations should not try to escape their responsibility for the development of the nation's human capital. It is in their long-term economic self-interest. It is in their long-term political self-interest. And it is their civic duty.

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