Could Trump be the end of economic globalization?

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In a recent article, I questioned whether Trump’s anti-establishment potential could be dwindling given certain neocon names that are floating around as possible picks for the Trump administration. The truth is, it is just too early to tell. We do not yet know who will fill Trump’s administration. We also do not know who is releasing the various names and for what reason. Until the Trump administration is actually formed, all we can go by are his words. As I stated previously, his words on foreign policy appear to hint at an anti-interventionist foreign policy (i.e., “America first,” meaning lets fix our problems at home before we worry about other nations or nation-building abroad). For this reason, I remain guardedly optimistic about the new direction foreign policy and geopolitics could take under Trump.

I also remain guardedly optimistic about possible changes to economic policy. During his campaign, Trump’s words indicated a desire to return to isolationist-protectionist economics. If this is actualized, it could serve a blow to the US-led neoliberal globalization that has put many people out of work and into debt slavery.

It is not an over statement to say that US-led neoliberal economic/corporate globalization—which ushered in the privatization and downsizing of vast public and labor sectors, the off shoring of jobs to cheaper labor markets abroad, and mass unemployment and underemployment worldwide, especially in the west—has practically destroyed the global workforce, including in the United States. It is also not an overstatement to say that the reigning in or reversal of economic globalization, if such a thing is even possible, would greatly benefit the ever-increasing poor, unemployed and underemployed peoples of the world.

What is Economic Globalization?

Prior to WWII and the US’ full ascent to global economic super power, the United States had what is known as a protectionist or isolationist economy, meaning it did not trade much with other nations and production and manufacturing was done mainly in house. Following its victory in the Second World War, the US was in a position of power as much of Europe lay in ruins and in need of “aid.” The US seized the opportunity (some say it actually created this opportunity, but that is a topic for another article). The US was able to economically enslave parts of Europe with its Marshall Plan. [1] Part of the conditions for Marshall Plan “aid” was the opening up of European markets to the US and economic restructuring and integration in a manner that favored the US capitalist model and US banks and corporations. With this, economic globalization began. With time the US was able to become a full-fledged Empire by (often forcibly) spreading its version of capitalism around the world. This made the US Empire unique in that is was largely economic in nature—what is know as capitalist or economic imperialism. But capitalist imperialism is a highly political and militarized process, and the threat of military force and endless imperial war and invasion has always gone hand-in-hand with US economic empire.

Globalization is both a description and a prescription, “and as such, it serves as both an explanation–a poor one, it has to be said–and an ideology that currently dominates thinking, policy-making and political practice.” [3] As a description, “globalization” refers to the widening and deepening of the international flows of technology, capital, trade and information within a single integrated global market. As a prescription, “globalization” entails the liberalization (opening up) of national and international markets in the belief that the free flow of goods, capital and information will lead to economic growth and increased human welfare. But both have failed to materialize.

The Effects of Globalization

While it has vastly enriched the banks, multinational corporations and uber-elite of the world, economic globalization has meant unemployment, economic stagnation or impoverishment, debt slavery and increased general economic despair for the majority of everyday people, including and especially in the west. Part of what free trade and economic/corporate globalization entails, is the off shoring and outsourcing of jobs to much cheaper labour markets in the south and developing countries. And while one may argue that at least the people of those countries are benefiting through employment, neoliberal globalization actually devastates the developing world the most.

The wages offered to workers in developing countries by multinational corporations and Big Business are basically slave wages, that is what makes those markets so attractive in the first place. At the same time, in these non-industrialized, impoverished parts of the world, economic globalization often manifests itself in the form of Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), which are essentially predatory programs that involve comprehensive economic “reform” as a condition for loans from Bretton Woods’ institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These conditions include a policy of trade liberalization, of devaluation (of currency), privatization of public enterprises, and elimination of government price intervention (government food and health subsidies, controls, price ceilings and so on). Such neo-liberal prescriptions have had devastating consequences for those peoples forced to comply with their mandate. These people constitute some of the world’s poorest, and without government subsidies of food, medicine and housing, they simply cannot live.

Meanwhile, in the west, individuals that have lost their jobs, benefits and pensions due to globalization (and the resultant outsourcing and off shoring of capital and jobs or the corporate-government promotion of illegal migrant labour at home), privatization and downsizing, also find themselves in a sate of economic despair. As the peoples of both the west and non-west sink deeper and deeper into poverty, unemployment and economic despair, they are forced to increasingly rely on debt in order to live. The obvious winners are the financial institutions and moneylenders as well as the scores of policy makers, politicians and officials that are in their pockets– the ones passing and or allowing predatory economic policies in the first place.

Have no doubt, for this global economic Ponzi scheme to succeed it had to have political allies and politicians willing to assist it. So it stands to reason that politicians and political policies could also potentially reverse or limit this new world order and put a damper on the era of economic globalization (i.e., increased wealth of the tiny minority at the expense of economic plundering and despair of the vast majority). Enter Donald Trump.

Could The Tide Turn?

Donald Trump is a peculiar scenario: A billionaire business tycoon recently turned president that has subtly promised to rein in economic globalization and return the US to the days of protectionist and isolationist economics.

At the end of October, Donald Trump released a plan for his first 100 days in office. Here are some of the things he prioritized:

  • “I will announce my intention to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal”
  • “I will announce our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership”
  • “I will direct my Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator”
  • “I will direct the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative to identify all foreign trading abuses that unfairly impact American workers and direct them to use every tool under American and international law to end those abuses immediately”
  • “I will lift the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ worth of job-producing American energy reserves, including shale, oil, natural gas and clean coal”

While he is highly controversial and while many of his platforms have people screaming racism, when some of them are interpreted economically it begins to paint a picture of a return to protectionist economics (and a blow to economic globalization) and the creation of jobs at home for US citizens. Even his plans to remove millions of illegal immigrants from the US, if interpreted economically, translate into potential jobs for Americans.

Big Business in the US unofficially promotes and relies on illegal immigration to provide a low-wage labour force within its own borders. Indeed, businesses like Walmart actually win government bids to bring in so-called illegal workers in a manner that only penalizes the workers should they be discovered. With unemployment at a record-high in the US, limiting illegal migration could serve to help unemployed and underemployed Americans by ‘repatriating jobs,’ so to speak. While the liberal left is up-in arms about Trump’s plans to limit illegal migration, long before the anti-globalization movement was high jacked by identity politics, which focuses more on personal identity than economic analysis and resisting Empire, some of its members were actually talking about things like eliminating NAFTA, ending free trade, and job creation for the working class. [5]

Overall, while it remains to be seen how and if his economic policies will unfold and if he will be able or willing to affect any real change, when interpreted through the lens of international political economy, Trump seems to potentially represent a threat to neoliberal economic globalization and a return to protectionist/isolationist economics. At this time, it is far too early to gauge. Politicians are known to say all sorts of things in order to get elected. Like so many presidential candidates before him, Trump’s economic promises could prove to be hollow. But the fact that it was such promises that got him elected in the first place, gives us a sense of what currently matters to so many Americans: “it’s the economy, stupid.”

I will revisit these issues and provide deeper analysis of Trump’s economic policy claims in future posts.

Notes

[1] The Marshall Plan was a US “aid package” offered to many European counties devastated by WWII, which came with a host of economic restructuring conditions that essentially allowed the US to high jack and dominate European economies. The Soviet Union refused Marshall Plan “aid.”
[2] Mark Rupert, 2000
[3] James Petras, 2001
[4] I was active in the anti-globalization movement for over a decade and witnessed first hand the shift from a resistance to economic empire to a focus on identity politics.

Ghada Chehade
Dr. Ghada Chehade is an independent analyst, writer and spoken word artist/poet. She holds a PhD from McGill University. Her research on the war on terror received the national Award for Best Dissertation in the Field of Rhetoric, Writing Studies and Discourse Analysis. Her poems have been published online and in several books.
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