"British jobs for British workers!" thundered Gordon Brown, as he emerged from the shadow of Tony Blair to become prime minister. His populist sloganeering has now come back to bite him.
Across Britain, thousands laid down tools in wildcat strikes in solidarity with a walkout from a French-owned oil refinery in North Killinghome — to protest a $300 million contract to an Italian company that plans to bring in 400 Italian and Portuguese workers to fulfill it.
As Brown pleaded from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that Britain must not retreat into "protectionism," strikes spread to Scotland, Wales and Ulster. Britain's commitment to let foreigners buy up its utilities and industries and bring in foreign workers to run them has backfired. Brown's own Labor Party is now angrily demanding that he live up to his pledge: British jobs for British workers.
"The Return of Economic Nationalism," wails the alarmed cover of The Economist. And understandably so. For the stimulus bills of both Houses have a "Buy American" provision mandating that in "public works" only U.S. iron, steel and manufactures be used. The provision came out of the appropriations committee of the House on a 55-to-0 vote.
The Senate watered it down by declaring the Buy American provision must be consistent with all U.S. trade commitments. But Congress is sending a message: The rebuilding of America is to be a project of, by and for Americans, not outsourced. Sen. McCain's free-trade amendment, to strip all Buy American provisions from the bill, was routed 65 to 31
The reaction of Barack Obama, a NAFTA skeptic in 2008 with bumper stickers that read, "Buy American, Vote Obama," was to genuflect to the gods of globalism and recant his economic patriotism.
"I think it would be a mistake ... at a time when worldwide trade is declining, for the United States to start sending a message that somehow we're just looking out after ourselves," he told Fox News. We don't want to "trigger a trade war," he told ABC. Apparently, Obama was unnerved by rumbles from Europe, which is threatening to drag us before a World Trade Organization tribunal and have "Buy American" banished forever.
But there is no easy way out now for a Democratic Party where economic nationalism is rampant. If Congress drops or Obama refuses to enforce the Buy American provision, and billions of stimulus dollars are spent on foreign iron, steel and cement, Middle America will know whom to blame. But if Americans get the contracts, and Europeans get nothing, Europe will have to decide whether to retaliate and start a trade war with a populist and nationalist America.
We may be at a turning point in history. For we are about to choose whether to fully and finally cast our lot with globalism, or to become again a nation and people who put Americans first. We are about to decide, perhaps for all time, whether we believe in a deepening interdependence leading to one world government, or we restore the independence won for us by the men on Mount Rushmore: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
All four were economic nationalists. All would today be decried as protectionists. For all believed that the nation's independence and prosperity hung upon its ability to stand alone in the world, and that foreign goods should never enjoy as privileged access to America's markets as American goods made in the U.S.A.
All four put America first. And it was they who created out of 13 rural colonies the greatest manufacturing power in history. Is not their record superior to what Bush-Clinton-Bush left us: a hollowed-out industrial nation dependent on foreigners for the needs of our national life and for the loans to pay for them?
Even John Maynard Keynes came around in 1933 to believe in "national self-sufficiency." Those who prattle about the perils of protectionism need to be asked: What has free trade produced, but a bankrupt America that must go hat-in-hand to Beijing to borrow the money to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure? Are we also to use Chinese iron, steel and cement because they, with their Third World wages, will work for less than our fellow Americans?
As for Europe's threat of a trade war, bring it on! We would eat their lunch. As analyst Charles McMillion writes, in eight years of Bush, Canada ran up $500 billion in trade surpluses at our expense, Japan ran up $600 billion, the European Union $800 billion. These three trading partners, often by imposing value-added taxes on U.S. imports, and rebating those taxes on goods sold here, racked up $1.9 trillion in trade surpluses, sucking jobs, factories and technology out of the United States. These trade deficits, and the even larger ones with China, says Paul Volcker, are behind our present crisis.
America is bust. It is shameful to have to go to China and Japan to borrow the money to rebuild America. But to go to China and Japan and borrow billions, and not spend the money here, makes zero sense. We have indulged in free trade for a quarter century. And look where it has gotten us.
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