Tuesday, October 11, 2011

All Politics Is Local

. Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In Poli 150 -- Intro to International Politics -- we are transitioning from studying the politics of the global security apparatus to studying the politics of the global economy. So I was pleased to see a current case with some local flavor described on the front page of the NYT's web site:

There are still a few textile mills in the Carolina piedmont, making futuristic fabrics that cover soldiers’ helmets and the roofs of commercial buildings. 
There is also a new threat on the horizon. A proposed free trade agreement with South Korea, which the House and Senate are scheduled to consider this week, would open the American market to a manufacturing powerhouse that has its own high-technology textile industry. ... 
“We are very much in favor of global trade, but we’re just not about having agreements that are unfair to the U.S. textile industry,” said Allen E. Gant Jr., chief executive of Glen Raven, a family-owned company that employs 1,500 people in the United States. “The U.S. needs every single job that we can get.” ... 
Economists generally argue that free trade agreements benefit all participating countries by creating a larger market for goods and services. But that benefit derives in part from the movement of some activities to the lower-cost countries. In other words, even if the deal is good for the United States as a whole, it is likely to create clear losers.
The North Carolina textile industry was hit pretty hard by NAFTA, and the new FTAs will likely batter the sector further. I like the article -- written by the excellent Binyamin Appelbaum -- because it neatly lays out the politics of the deal: the country as a whole will benefit, but smaller groups will suffer. Those groups have a strong incentive to lobby the government for protection. Sometimes they will be successful, sometimes they won't. The Obama administration renegotiated parts of the pact it inherited from the Bush administration under pressure from autoworkers' unions and other powerful groups. Textile workers evidently don't have the same sway.

The article also goes a long way towards describing preference formation and aggregation. Allen Gant reveals more than he realizes in that short statement. What he's saying is that he supports market exchange except when his firm is the one facing new competition. And he's saying that in this case trade would hurt both capital and labor in the textile industry. This statement illustrates materialist conceptions of trade politics, and supports the view that attitudes over trade fall along sectoral, rather than factoral, lines. It's a nice little article, and I'll be giving it to my students.


All Politics Is Local
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