Those damn ferners
From the hysteria over the Dubai ports deal to the disturbing nativism in much of the immigration debate, the US is falling into a Pat Buchanan dreamworld of isolationism.
Many economists place blame for the length and intensity of the Great Depression on the Smoot-Hawley tariffs, passed in 1930, which placed huge tariffs on imported goods at a time when the economy was already staggering from the stock market Crash.
Here's an interesting article on Smoot-Hawley from a fairly academic economic perspective:
Clearly, the force behind the tariffs was the perennial economic idiocy of wanting to protect special interests (especially farmers) in order to buy their votes. But the implementation of the tariffs was facilitated by a lingering American distaste for global entanglements following World War I (where our delay to enter was arguably responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Europeans....not that they would have appreciated it much if we had shown up earlier.)
While one can always hope for non-sensical populists like Ross Perot or far-right nativists like Pat Buchanan to fade away, the public seems to drift toward their views during times when involvement in international issues...whether wars or difficult world economies...is the slightest bit stressful. Given that there are always interest groups looking to use government to "protect" them from their own lack of competitiveness, it doesn't take much for government to fall off the fence in the wrong way.
The Dubai ports furor is a great example of an issue which was blown out of all reasonable proportion for political gain...by both parties. (I've discussed already how bone-headed it was politically for the Bush administration to let it happen the way it did, but we don't need to rehash that today.) Add in the (mostly Republican) clamor to get most Hispanics out of the country and you start to see a picture of a fear of foreigners ("those damn ferners") which brings obvious parallels with other xenophobic regimes in history.
I don't want to take this analogy too far. People who compare Bush and Republicans to Nazis are way off base. My problem is more one of economics than politics. Xenophobia is an economic disaster. Just ask North Korea. Or ask an American who was trying to work in 1931 and 1932. Additionally, it seems clear that economic involvement with each other substantially diminishes the chances of two countries going to war.
We're not on the verge of a war with another civilized country or a depression caused by economic idiots like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), but every baby step we take toward de-globalizing our economy is a giant step away from national prosperity and peace.
[Update: Note a similar piece on BeltwayBlitz.com called "Here Come the Hoover Democrats" from about a week ago.]
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