In his speech to Parliament on Wednesday, Barack Obama called for a version of globalization where the benefits accrued to all, not just the top one percent. A consummation devoutly to be wished. But, Tom Walkom writes, it may be too late to make it happen:
Indeed, the best Obama could come up with as a model for humane globalization was the deeply flawed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade and investment deal. Yet it is so unpopular in the U.S. that even Hillary Clinton, Obama’s ally and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has vowed to deep-six it.The TPP is unpopular for good reasons. Many Americans (and Canadians) don’t want to lose their jobs to workers in low-wage Pacific Rim countries like Vietnam.Given their experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement, Americans are justly suspicious of politicians who promise that these losses will be more than compensated for by new jobs at home.And so they are fighting back through antiglobalization politicians, such as Trump and would-be Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders.
Bucking the trend is nothing new:
In 19th century Canada, it found expression through John A. Macdonald’s National Policy of protective tariffs.The new Dominion of Canada was losing population as workers migrated to the U.S. in search of jobs. Macdonald’s break from British free-trade orthodoxy was designed to create the jobs that would keep them at home.A few decades later, in the 1930s, governments around the world used the power of the state to resist the logic of a market capitalism that had depressed wages, prices and jobs.In some countries, notably Germany and Italy, this resistance was commandeered by racists and fascists.In others, it was not. U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, a direct challenge to the prevailing economic orthodoxy, led not to fascism but to projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority electrification scheme.Canadian Prime Minister R.B. Bennett’s New Deal, while not quite as bold, led to the CBC.During the ’40s and ’50s, the battleground moved to the shop floor as North America’s new industrial unions challenged an orthodoxy that said only markets could determine wage rates. All of which is to say that this tension over the market economy never goes away.
And so, once again, we find ourselves in a place where governments -- the latest being the UK's -- are rejecting the conventional wisdom of the day. On Wednesday, Obama spoke in support of the conventional wisdom. But, in spite of the good will he generated on Parliament Hill this week, the train may have already left the station.