Ten years ago on my first visit to the US, I sat at a table of very friendly but practical strangers – most of us were young and idealistic. Among us was this middle-aged gentleman who was very nice, very well-read and thoughtful about a lot of subjects. Our conversation was unmemorable, but I recall it took an interesting turn when the gentleman started talking about the U.S.-China and how this triggered staggering unemployment across the US.
As the middle-aged gentleman spoke, I could feel the air in the room changing. Being the only Chinese person in the room, I was under attack. My compatriots felt I was under attack as well. After the gentleman finished, several colleagues jumped to “my” defense, arguing that his view over the top, unfair. Feeling more compelled than ever, I attempted to muster my limited knowledge of basic economics and countered with what I have been hearing all along: “free trade makes all our lives better.”
Our conversation ended cordially. As I look back, I’m sure we failed to reach any middle ground.
Fast forward to 3 years ago, I attended a traditionally very China-friendly conference. Trump had been inaugurated as the President, and U.S.-China trade was high on the radar screen. A Trump Administration official listed Chinese abuses resulting in unfair trade to the point everyone in the room was aghast.
After this keynote speech, you could hear a pin drop onto the floor. My table of friendly strangers couldn’t help but break the silence. There was an American lawyer of Chinese origin who was ready to boil the Trump official in oil. This time, I took the view that the all mighty economic principle of free trade no longer worked, at least not politically, which was why we were seeing economic nationalism and nativism rising in the US.
To this, the lawyer gave me a look of disgust and condescension, arguing with great zeal that free trade absolutely works. The conversation ended there abruptly. I had been tossed in the basket of deplorables. He cancelled me out.
As I look at these two interactions, what stands out the most is my own change of perception on the same issue, and how I have come to disavow the preaching from the Ivory Tower.
Do economic theories work? Yes, perhaps for a period of time. Do they always work? Possibly, but only in a vacuum. Can they fail? Absolutely.
It’s been more than 20 years since China’s entry into the World Trade Organization as an advocate of what we now call the “globalization project”. Since then, China’s economy has skyrocketed, people’s standard of living has markedly increased, infrastructure development of every kind has advanced: highways, airports, megacities, etc. Meanwhile, here in the good ol’ USA, factories have shuttered, manufacturing has fled, infrastructure has been untended since WWII, and fentanyl has poisoned youth and old alike in the hinterland as well as the cities, decimating the American Dream.
Somehow we have been spoon fed by the intelligentsia and our politicians that this is a good thing, a fair deal, even for America. They point to low price tags at Wal-Mart or Costco as examples. Never mind the steady, good-paying jobs that have disappeared and have been shipped overseas. Never mind the despair of unemployment and the myth that training can resurrect the unemployed. The message is crystal clear: Get on the bus or be left behind.
Now, two decades later, the situation in the U.S. is the same, except on a much larger and unsustainable scale. Decent and hardworking Americans are labeled by the bi-coastal elites as “deplorables”. Recall it was Hillary who first used this term to describe the people living in the fly-over states of America’s heartland.
These same self-claiming global citizens – people like Hillary and Kamala, AOC and the Squad- care more about climate change and the starving children in third world countries than they do about their own suffering, fellow citizens. They waste no time on solutions to create new opportunities for those who are left-behind. Instead, they demonize them for their lack of education and their inability to see and climb the economic ladder.
On the other side of the Pacific, just a ten hour flight from California, the Chinese Communist Party’s export-driven economic model has zero incentive to change, given how effective the model has been in destroying the very economies which have enabled China’s rise. Instead, the CCP is doubling down: forced localization, IP transfer as a condition for market entry, and a host of other non-trade barriers, but coupled with even more egregious treatment of its own citizenry. Look at the labor conditions in China, which are no more than slave labor conditions. Look at China’s treatment of the environment. Just take one deep breath in Beijing! The export game has been maximized to a point where excess capacity can no longer be absorbed by the rest of the world. As to an individual Chinese, they are mere cannon fodder.
Now, try to explain how free trade makes our lives better again? Even the global elites are abandoning the effort.
They’ve come up with new names: the Green New Deal, the Great Reset, etc..
But gone are the days of innocent acceptance. Free thinking people do not need the lecturing of those who think they know better, especially not from those who have been looking down at them all along. Ordinary Americans are re-claiming their voice of reason and common sense in this fight against these global elites.
Populism? Yes, unapologetically. What’s more, it’s the people’s voice reflecting the people’s will.
When a society ceases to believe the spoon fed reality by the powers that be, this marks the beginning of a Great Awakening.
Take the red pill. Get out of the Matrix and fight for your freedom and dignity.