Pre-election doubt

I said that I would try to limit my discussion of American politics, but I read a few pieces today upon which I couldn’t resist commenting.

First, in the FT Alan Beattie writes about American attitudes towards globalization, noting that despite the common perception that Americans are much more tolerant than Europeans of the “negative” consequences of globalization for the American economy, Americans have many of the same fears and doubts as Europeans when it comes to dealing with the dislocation caused by economic openness.

Why is this important?

Well, as this analytical essay by Edward Luce and Krishna Guha, also in the FT, suggests, the Democratic party appears to have turned away from the commitment to economic liberalization that characterized the Clinton administration’s international economic policy (also discussed in this New Republic essay [free registration required] by Peter Beinhart on the liberal flirtation with populist CNN broadcaster Lou Dobbs). Should the Democrats abandon a commitment to globalization, the US will see a partisan divide reminiscent of the 1890s, as the central political issue becomes the degree to which the US partakes in the global economy.

If the stakes were high in the 1890s, they are innumerably higher now, with the US now a leading engine of growth for the entire global economy. The danger is that should the perception that large numbers of middle-class Americans are being devastated by globalization take hold, the beleaguered defenders of an open economy and open global economic system may be able to do little to stop the US from undertaking a populist rampage, turning on other economic powers for their “cheating” and scaling back the US commitment to globalization, with untold consequences for the US and the global economy.

At the same time, however, even as this issue looms over the political landscape, America’s political class seems to have no interest in actually discussing how to ensure that the US remains committed to furthering globalization. As Christopher Hitchens writes in an op-ed in the Times (of London) — a piece that expresses my thoughts exactly — the election campaign this fall has been fought over trivial questions, not the great national questions that must be answered.

The behavior of America’s political class and its various hangers-on on K Street and in the media this year show them all to be incapable of leading the country properly, but sadly I don’t expect them to be replaced anytime soon (and no, a Democratic pickup of one or both houses will not qualify). America needs real, fundamental change in how it thinks and talks about politics, and, in particular, how it talks about America’s place in the world. The dividing wall between domestic and foreign policy in the US has broken down, and America’s leaders need to start talking and acting as if they recognize that fact.

2 thoughts on “Pre-election doubt

  1. Bragionomics

    Interesting post Toby,Brad DeLong has some interesting thoughts re: the political parties and their attitudes towards free trade. a bit premature to say that the dividing line between doestic and international politics has collapsed… indeed in this ) article in TNR Richard Posner suggests the opposite (excessive division in issues). I would agree that the distinction drawn now is much greater than it ought to be.hope all is well.


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