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Tue. January 31, 2023
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The Western Roots of the New Econo-nationalism
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Some refer to English as a linguistic mutt, but the truth is that it is the archetype of a “free trade language.” As such, I hope that the researchers who are busy revising the entire Oxford English Dictionary will allow me to add a new word into the new English lexicon: “Econo-nationalism.” Not to be confused with “econationalism”–a word that would most likely mean nationalism that fervently supports the planting of only native shrubberies–econo-nationalism is a phrase that I have devised to describe a sense of xenophobia in matters having to do with international trade. The econo-nationalist protests when a foreign firm proposes its expansion within his borders, or when a foreign firm announces plans to buy out a native company. The outcry in the US over the Dubai Ports World deal over a year ago was an example of this, as were French politicians’ decisions to bar an Italian firm from purchasing a controlling stake in native energy companies. Which brings us to everyone’s favorite oil/distribution/consulting conglomerate: Halliburton. It announced last week that it will open a second headquarters in Dubai, the bustling trade capital of the post-petroleum Middle East. While Halliburton will keep a major office in Houston, its chairman and CEO will base his operations out of a new headquarters in the United Arab Emirates. Apparently, Dubai’s politicians and businessmen–in other words, Dubai’s royalty–welcome foreign companies, and have the foresight to see that forming economic ties with other countries is not only good economic policy, but also good political policy. Those who protest such business-minded moves fail to consider this important effect. Although it escaped the ire of the hypothetical econo-nationalist in Dubai, Halliburton did not manage to remain unscathed by its countrymen in the US. Senator Patrick Leahy said of the company, “At the same time they'll be avoiding US taxes, I'm sure they won't stop insisting on taking their profits in cold, hard US cash.” It doesn’t matter to econo-nationalists like Senators Leahy and Clinton that Halliburton will still be incorporated in the US and continue to pay its current level of taxes to the US government. Econo-nationalists find it prudent to play on many people’s fears of the outsider in order to secure their ability to regulate, tax and otherwise control entities that, they believe, exist to serve the interests of the national government. This shortsighted instinct drives their opposition to free trade and globalization, and does a disservice to their countries’ long-term well-being. At a recent conference in Washington, D.C., my colleagues and I manned a booth from which we gave free Sam Adams bobble-heads to passersby. Many people asked for a bottle of beer, but alas, the bobble-heads were all that we had to give, and they proved popular in their own right. Naturally, our little Sam Adamses had been sculpted, painted and packaged in China. Each had a sticker under its base to prove it. In a singular occurrence, a gentleman who had taken a bobble-head brought it back two minutes later, telling me that he could not keep it because it had been made in China. I told him that we were free traders, to which he responded that he was a communist refugee. (I replied that my father was also a communist refugee, the mention of which ended the conversation quickly and unresolved.) This gentleman had fallen into the trap of the econo-nationalists, preferring to isolate foreign nations and firms because of a personal disagreement. He had neglected to realize that relatively unrestricted open trade has been the method by which many countries worldwide have developed free political systems, and that protectionism and blockades have only strengthened the position of the tyrant. The US economic embargo of Cuba has, indeed, served Fidel Castro very well. Despite its recent growth in popularity in the United States and Europe, econo-nationalism is losing steam in the fastest developing countries, which is why thousands of little Sam Adamses today have Chinese origins. India has relaxed its rules on foreign corporate stakeholders; China is harmonizing its tax rates for domestic and foreign firms; and Vietnam recently joined the World Trade Organization. These countries and many others have seen how it is to live on the other side, and are moving away from protectionism and global skepticism as quickly as they can do so without causing economic shocks. This bodes well for peace and mutual success between these nations and their trading partners. The current crisis in the Western world provides an opportunity for both free traders and internationalists to stop econo-nationalism in its tracks before it becomes any more institutionalized. The precedent that even the current level of econo-nationalism sets is detrimental to the idea of peaceful global relations. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman once theorized that free trade and economic interdependence was such that two nations that both had McDonald’s restaurants would never go to war with one another. Thus far, he has been right, and we can only hope that greater numbers of people will judge it prudent and appropriate to host many more McDonald’s restaurants, Halliburtons and international energy companies on their own soil. Richard Neil Lorenc works as a Marketing & Communications Associate with the Sam Adams Alliance, a Chicago-based non-profit. His personal website is richardlorenc.com.

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