Policy debaters have a U.S./China policy resolution and Texas UIL has a Spring Lincoln-Douglas topic: RESOLVED: In matters of international trade, globalization ought to be valued above protectionism

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 9.47.32 AMLast week I purchased a fire pit for a friend. It was $125 delivered by Amazon…from China. Should I have instead have tried to purchase a similar fire pit made in the U.S.A.? Well, money was an issue. “Fire Pit” wasn’t in my April budget nor in my friend’s budget. We could have dug a hole in the yard and lined it with bricks. But a portable fire pit for the patio seemed preferable.

Amazon kept part of the $124.94 to cover delivery costs, hosting item and transacting the sale. Plus Best Choice Products, a Southern California company (originally Sky Billiards) kept a slice to cover their costs and (hoped for) profits for importing this fire pit from somewhere in China.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 11.23.59 AMWho is hurt when Americans buy portable fire pits or other products from China? People in China purchase iPhones and other name- brand goods from the U.S. Japan, and Europe and buy food from Kentucky Fried Chicken, Starbucks, and McDonalds. “Mapping China’s middle class,” (McKinsey & Co.) reports Chinese middle income consumers will soon expand to three-times the size of American baby-boomers:

China’s new middle class also divides into different generations, the most striking of which we call Generation 2 (G2). It comprised nearly 200 million consumers in 2012 and accounted for 15 percent of urban consumption. In ten years’ time, their share of urban consumer demand should more than double, to 35 percent. By then, G2 consumers will be almost three times as numerous as the baby-boomer population that has been shaping US consumption for years.

Economists over the last two hundred and fifty years have consistently made the case for open international trade and against policies of mercantilism and protectionism. Critics often label economists advocating international trade as pro-business or “corporate shills.”

Adam Smith argued much the opposite in “The Wealth of Nations.” Smith argued the benefits to consumers of international trade are fairly obvious: opportunities to purchase a wider variety of goods, often at lower prices. Smith

Taking a dark view of globalization is this post drawn from a recent “BBC broadcast, a ‘Dinner Party Conversation’ on the question of whether globalisation is dead?” The post offers counter arguments research arguing that international investment, trade, and migration are the reason world poverty has fallen so dramatically:

Moreover, while it is true that poverty has fallen worldwide, the phenomenon cannot be wholly attributed to financial liberalisation or globalisation, but instead to advances in e.g. medical science and scientific development. Indeed, the numbers of those living on less than $1 a day fell most rapidly, not during the period of financial globalisation, but between 1950 and 1970 according to Bourgignon and Morrison (see Our World in Data, on global extreme poverty).

 

This Cato Institute post, “What Globalization Isn’t,” (July 6, 2016) tried to separate out “false song globalism” from the decades of gains from market-based international trade and investment:

The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates that past gains from U.S. trade and liberalization of investment range from $9,270 to $16,842 per household. Another study found that that “a 1 percent increase in trade raises real income by 0.5 percent.” Other research finds that the trade flowing from globalization has increased consumer purchasing power for middle-income households by 29 percent. As for the poor, they benefit most from the availability of low-cost goods, seeing as much as a 62 percent increase in purchasing power over what they would have in a world without trade.

Looking for downsides, the HBR article asks: “Did Trade with China Make U.S. Manufacturing Less Innovative?” (December 8, 2016). International competition can spur U.S. firms to innovate, but sometimes a cost cliff can be so steep, domestic firms just abandon markets to imports. The HBR article cites new research:

Was increased trade with China really pushing U.S. companies to become more innovative? For manufacturers, at least, they found that the answer was no. In fact, the relationship went in the opposite direction: U.S. manufacturers exposed to competition from Chinese imports became far less innovative. …

The first takeaway from this paper is that more competition, from trade or otherwise, doesn’t necessarily lead to more innovation. While competition can force firms to innovate to fend off rivals, it can also cut profit margins, leaving companies with less to invest in research and development.

So for both policy and Lincoln-Douglas debaters there are arguments, claims, and research on all sides of the globalization debate. It’s worth taking the long view though, international trade has extended for all human history and brought both benefits and costs.  The Economists offers a nice overview: “When did globalisation start?” (September 23, 2013):

Some see globalisation as a good thing. According to Amartya Sen, a Nobel-Prize winning economist, globalisation “has enriched the world scientifically and culturally, and benefited many people economically as well”. …

Others disagree. Globalisation has been attacked by critics of free market economics, like the economists Joseph Stiglitz and Ha-Joon Chang, for perpetuating inequality in the world rather than reducing it.

After a discussion of economic history of global trade, The Economist takes a long view:

But it is clear that globalisation is not simply a process that started in the last two decades or even the last two centuries. It has a history that stretches thousands of years, starting with [Adam] Smith’s primitive hunter-gatherers trading with the next village, and eventually developing into the globally interconnected societies of today. Whether you think globalisation is a “good thing” or not, it appears to be an essential element of the economic history of mankind.

For LD debaters, is there a value in protecting U.S. fire pit manufacturers from global competition? With choices limited by fire pit tariffs, would people purchase a more expensive U.S. versions? Spending more on U.S. fire pits leaves consumers less to spend on other goods and services, and/or less to put aside as savings.

U.S. fire pits could be manufactured less expensively if tariffs on steel from China were lower. “China upset at high US tariffs on steel imports: Punitive tariffs announced after conclusion of anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations,” (South China Morning Post, February 4, 2017):

The US Commerce Department announced earlier this week it would impose punitive tariffs ranging from 63.86 per cent to 190.71 per cent on China’s stainless steel products after concluding anti-dumping and anti-subsidy probes.

Also see “U.S. Steelmakers Press Their Luck With Price Increases,” (Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2017):

Domestic steel companies have raised prices by as much as 50% on popular types of steel in recent months. That has boosted their profits, but troubled customers who say they can’t afford the higher cost. Steel users say they are looking for cheaper alternatives from countries unaffected by the tariffs.

Prehistoric people likely brought fire and fire-making tools with them as they traveled the world. Post-historic people trade fire pits instead.
— Greg Rehmke

 

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