If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, a minute amount of knowledge plus an article in the Times is arguably a foolish way to start a blog post about politics. But then, politics is riddled with foolishness, as I write.
Or is it?
Isn’t it all rather predictable, especially when you consider things such as the state of world trade, in particular, the west’s deal with China?
Yes, that’s where this is going. But first, let me explain…
Laid low by a lurgy last week, I found myself hooked by a couple of blogs*. Both pondering the questions raised by the Trump/Clinton drama being acted out over the pond.
Even at a distance the general shock is palpable. A feeling familiar to those of us who suffered the bereavement-like fallout of Brexit.
There’s a, ‘w-w-w-what the heck’s happening?’ burble issuing from the mouths of politicians, pundits, commentators and journalists.
How did it come to this?
Donald Trump? Why?
How can anyone think that he would make a better president – any kind of president – than Hillary Clinton?
I’m deeply puzzled by the women who don his slogan t-shirts, who’d have Hillary behind bars, if they could. But I think I can recognise what some of them might be feeling – and why.
My life isn’t theirs – we could be two different tribes. But I suspect all of us, in different shoes, might find echoes of our own worlds in the oddest places, making lambs lie down willingly with serpents.
But I’m even more puzzled by the behaviour of Republican grandees. How come they went along with it this far?
I’ve no time for conspiracy theorists. Seriously, Donald Trump is not running and behaving as he does to ensure Hillary is elected. Yes, some people are saying that, not a word of a lie. (I never tell lies.)
But what is it that’s brought so many people into the raucous crowd that billows behind this blustering behemoth of a man?
Answers came there many.
Answers only too recognisable to bewildered Remainers in Britain, still coming to terms with the Brexit vote.
But yesterday, in the newspaper that plopped through our letterbox, came an article with an answer that rang other bells.
Closure of the coal mines bells. Textile industry moving to India bells. Shipyards abandoned bells. Steel mills threatened with closure bells.
All things that happened, or are happening to the industrial organs of the British commercial body, leaving a lasting legacy of damaged communities.
And a damaged community is made up of damaged souls.
But that’s not where I am going with this – or at least, not directly – it’s to China. To the free movement of trade.
The article in the Times, written by Rhys Blakely, is behind a paywall so you can only read it for yourselves if you have a subscription. I’ll summarise some of it and hope the author won’t mind.
The headline reads:
Town that furnished America’s dream sold out by globalisation
The town is Hickory, North Carolina.
In 2001, after 200 years of being ‘the furniture capital of the world’ (self-professed, I assume) a shock wave hit the town.
China joined the World Trade Organisation.
In the nine years, between 1999 and 2008, unemployment rose from two to 15 percent.
Cheap imports flooded in, jobs flooded out.
The benefits of freer trade – cheaper prices – went unsung amid the visible decline of once prosperous towns and cities like Hickory across the USA.
There, as in the UK, certain industries clustered in certain areas – making the problem as clear as acne on the skin of the nation.
Then, to add injury to insult, came 2007.
In 2016 it looks as if around half of Hickory’s population will vote Trump. Not because they like the man or find him presidential (according to quoted vox pops), but because he understands what free trade has done to them, to their family’s aspirations and expectations, to their community.
Most of the areas worst affected by this trend have certain things in common and it’s not surprising, when you consider the Trump support base and when we over here think of Brexit, that they tend to be areas where people are whiter, older, less educated – and poorer.
According to the Washington Post (quoted in the Times) Trump, in the presidential primaries, won 89 of the 100 counties that have been most affected by competition from China.
All of which (thanks, Times, you’ve done your bit) made my in-house academic (he’s the one who voted) wonder about the World Trade Organisation.
And he wondered aloud. Then went online. A sensible chap, he stopped at that – but when he started talking about Dan Brown my writing whiskers sensed a blog post, if not a full blown thriller.
I have neither the time, the expertise nor enough of your patience to go much further with this today. But I want to give you a little taster of what I found in just a couple of minutes.
- The World Trade Organization came into being in 1995. One of the youngest of the international organizations, the WTO is the successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) established in the wake of the Second World War.
- The WTO has about 160 members, accounting for about 95% of world trade. Around 25 others are negotiating membership.
The press release from the WTO welcoming the agreement with China said:
“During a 12-year period starting from the date of accession there will be a special Transitional Safeguard Mechanism in cases where imports of products of Chinese origin cause or threaten to cause market disruption to the domestic producers of other WTO members.”
And I wonder (because I have so little knowledge) did the people whose jobs have gone, thanks to Chinese imports, here in Britain and over there in America, know about that safeguard mechanism?
Was it applied to Hickory?
There’s a list on the website of the many cases made to the WTO relating to this issue, mostly (it seemed to me) emanating from the EU and the USA. I haven’t the time or inclination to delve further. Yet. (Though that mention of Dan Brown does have my writerly neurons firing.)
But, in the meantime, I wonder, who, exactly, negotiated China’s deal? (We don’t know.)
And who policed it?
We hear of these world organisations, everyday news-bulletin acronyms – and nod them by, assuming they’re doing good on our behalf.
But what if?
When it comes to politics and trade, too little knowledge, I fear, is the really dangerous thing.
*Those two blogs:
Prepare to be depressed by the ‘Idiot of the Week’ series: https://jilldennison.com/
And yet more potentially depressing thoughts on US politics in the run up to the election: https://hughcurtler.com/