January 27, 2017

Source: Bigstock

Of course, many who regard themselves as victims of globalization aren”€™t losers on every count. They buy clothes manufactured in the Far East”€”in countries like Bangladesh and Indonesia now”€”and these clothes are far cheaper than they would be if manufactured in the West. Many can even afford Apple phones, which perhaps they couldn”€™t if Apple had made them at home, paying American wages. Globalization has reduced the cost of living in the developed world. Protectionist policies will raise it.

It’s understandable, however, that many in the U.S., Britain and mainland Europe have turned against free trade. Free trade benefits open, ascendant, and fast-growing economies. It did wonders for Britain in the Victorian Age when the United Kingdom was the first industrialized power and the market leader. However, by 1900, things were changing. The USA and Imperial Germany were outstripping Britain, their economies growing faster behind protective tariff walls. The first age of globalization damaged some parts of the British economy. In fifty years, between 1880 and 1930, one-third of the arable land in England went out of cultivation as farmers were unable to compete with grain from the American prairies and refrigerated beef from America and Argentina. The former radical Joseph Chamberlain, now Colonial Secretary in the Conservative government, called for tariff reform, with preference given to the countries of the Empire”€”and split the party, which was heavily defeated in the 1906 election.

Chamberlain then was where Mr. Trump is today. He had concluded that free trade no longer served the national interest. It had suited Britain when it had an advantage over competing countries; it no longer did so when that advantage had been lost. Of course, some sectors still flourished; banks and investment trusts made big profits from supplying capital for emerging economies”€”just as they do in the U.S. and the U.K. today.

But in troubled times people turn to protection, and the promise of protection has helped to put Donald Trump in the White House. Meanwhile, Mrs. May is presenting herself as a crusader for global free trade. It’s hard to see how there can be a meeting of minds.

Special Relationship? Really?


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