FOR Economic Nationalism

AGAINST Economic Nationalism


Globalisation has left people behind. In many advanced economies, real incomes have stagnated or even fallen since the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Since the 1980s, many communities (often in rural areas, or in town and cities in former industrial regions) have been devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Even when jobs are available, they often involve precarious job security, uncertain working hours, zero-hour contracts, etc. Meanwhile, the elites are now richer than they’ve ever been since the Second World War. Economic nationalism aims to rebalance things, making globalisation work for the majority by prioritising national industries over foreign competitors, investing in infrastructure in “left behind” regions, and putting up protectionist barriers to shield ordinary workers from the negative impact of globalisation.


The proponents of economic nationalism are economically illiterate. They do not understand how global supply chains work, and they suggest simple solutions for complicated problems. If everyone adopted “beggar-thy-neighbour” economic nationalism, then the experience of the 1930s shows it would be catastrophic. Protectionist policies raise prices for the consumer, and misguided government intervention in markets (such as payments to exporters hurt by tariffs) results in skyrocketing national debt. Economic nationalists are also ideological fanatics who value political loyalty over competence, often attacking the media and their own government agencies in crusades against the “deep state”. Their economic policies are pure populism, and the resulting economic fallout will end up doing the most harm to the very communities they ostensibly champion.


China has been benefiting from economic nationalism for years. It has taken advantage of low barriers to trade in other countries, while protecting its own economy through complex non-tariff barriers and lax enforcement of intellectual property rights. China has enjoyed the benefits of state capitalism and a mercantilist trade policy, while exploiting the naivety of those countries that have opened their borders to unrestricted free trade for purely ideological reasons. In this way, China has managed to grow its economy at the expense of Western countries over the past several decades.


Economic nationalism prioritises industrialisation and manufacturing at the expense of the environment. They often downplay the threat of climate change, or even label it a “hoax” (ignoring the scientific consensus, and championing fringe pseudoscience). They rip up environmental protection legislation and support polluting (and economically uncompetitive) industries such as coal.


Economic nationalism is about taking back control from unelected multinational organisations such as the EU and UN, as well as from international treaties and agreements such as NAFTA, TTIP, and the Paris Climate Agreement. Since the 1970s, economic neoliberalism has been lifting a broad range of policy decisions out of the realm of politics (“We can’t do this because we would be in breach of our treaty obligations!” and “We can’t do that because the markets won’t like it!”). Economic nationalism brings all those “unthinkable” policies back into play, and allows voters to decide for themselves what sort of future they want.


You can’t spell “economic nationalism” without “nationalism”. And there is a reason why economic nationalism is so heavily associated with white supremacists, alt-right conspiracy theorists, and neo-Nazi groups. Economic nationalism spills over into all aspects of politics, creating a chauvinistic, racist, xenophobic form of politics that tramples on minority rights and blames everything on foreigners. The world has been down this path before, and it leads to a very dark future.

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