Protectionism: can it help us survive?

Original article, by Neil Faulkner, via (UK):

The economic crisis that swept the globe in 2008 provoked debate about whether individual states or trade blocs could insulate themselves from the international turmoil through “protectionist” economic measures.

Protectionism, to my understating, is an attempt to protect your markets by placing barriers of various types to imports. For instance, if the US were to place a $2000 tax on every car we imported, that would be a protectionist measure. Protectionism would seem to be the opposite of free trade.

In reality the distinction between “free trade” and protectionism is false – the so-called “free market” has always involved states defending and promoting the capitalist firms based in their national economy.

In an earlier paragraph, Faulkner points out how the ‘developed’ countries have used institutions such as the IMF and World Bank to impose global markets and free trade on smaller undeveloped countries. Isn’t this a form of protectionism under the guise of free trade? You betcha! In fact, free trade is nothing of the sort.

Protectionist ideas are sometimes popular with workers facing redundancies. They seem to offer a simple explanation and solution. If workers are losing their jobs in British car-plants, surely the problem is the foreign cars on sale in local showrooms?

Faulkner then points out that protectionism was used, and failed, by Great Britain during the 70’s and 80’s, while it’s use during the Great Depression resulted in a huge number of unemployed. Protectionism, while it may seem to be a simple answer, apparently does not work.

What’s the answer? Well, of course, a full employment economy with good wages for all. Sure, the super-rich and the bosses wouldn’t get more super-rich as quickly, but the poor, middle and working classes would be able to afford their consumer goods without going into great debt. As you can imagine, Faulkner suggests a socialist alternative, which may be a good way to face the economic crisis we are in. Dennis Kucinich has talked about ‘Fair Trade,’ where the economic partners have signed bilateral trade agreements which are conducive to workers’ rights without allowing a great economy to smother the smaller local economy. Some look to the Scandinavian model of social democracy.

Where we head is up to us. We can sit back and allow the bosses to continue on the merry way until the next economic collapse. We can also choose to band together to fight for the rights of all workers, whether poor, working or middle class. The time for the struggle is now. Where it ends up will probably determine the economic order for the next quarter to half century.

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  1. …but it pleases me more than I can say to see that, as much as we can and do disagree on economics, we can agree that protectionism is not the answer.


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