This article originally appeared on PolicyMic on 18 October 2011.
Twenty years ago, America entered into decisions involving international trade with good intentions. Stemming from the belief that “A rising tide raises all boats,” America and other nations opened their doors for trade with one another in hopes that the result would be economic prosperity for all. Some nations have goods and services they desperately want to sell while others have the capital for investment and the income to consume. Open, free trade pays dividends economically and politically while promoting peace and stability. Unfortunately, these benefits are being outweighed today by the costs to workers in America and abroad.
Millions of Southeast Asians and Africans leave their families behind for years in order to travel to places like the Middle East where, though they find more opportunity than at home, they are often exploited and treated as second-class citizens. They often find the income they make in their host countries does not cover the costs incurred for travel, sponsorship, and visas to get there. Rather than improving conditions in their home countries, the economies of these nations have become dependent upon the “remittances” workers send home. Rather than helping these states grow and become independent, it has caused them to become even more dependent on foreign money.
Like many of their European counterparts, American businesses have abandoned the idea of manufacturing anything but high-tech goods in the U.S. for the much cheaper, unregulated, and union-free labor of places like China and India. This has been the trend for much of the last two decades, but the lack of industrial jobs is most apparent with the nation’s unemployment rate currently almost twice the average unemployment rate over the past 60 years. The evaporation of industrial jobs has led to deteriorating cities, towns, and entire swaths of American countryside (think Detroit). The upside of outsourcing American jobs was supposed to be cheap consumer goods. However, the benefits do not outweigh the costs, and the lack of disposable income leaves even these cheaper goods still out of reach for the nation’s unemployed.
America’s problems do not just lie within the realm of unemployment. You do not need to be an economist to see that the tremendous growth of China and India’s economies are fueled, in large part, by the U.S. money invested there. While the financial sector may profit from the outsourcing of American money, the majority of workers do not. This, in conjunction with the billions of American dollars sent to the Middle East annually for oil, displays the undeniable fact that our wealth is being siphoned away, and our strength as a nation is systematically decreasing.
If we don’t do something to fix this problem, our wealth and jobs will continue to drain away from us. Twenty years ago, our heart was in the right place. Perhaps today our heads need to follow suit.