A Nebraska small businessman recently told me about some trouble he is having. He manufactures a simple plastic product that could be made anywhere. While most of this type of production has shifted to China, through hard work, determination, and marketing, he and the ten people who work with him have created a viable entity. There’s a problem though. One major retailer wants to buy the product from China. Not because of price, not because of quality—simply because the corporate culture has disturbingly acclimated to foreign outsourcing.

This incident is part of a troubling trend in the larger international trade movement. The benefits and drawbacks of global trade must figure prominently in our national conversation. The trade debate involves a complicated set of questions, including various important economic and strategic considerations. Many people are justifiably concerned about the relentless march of globalization—and just how fair this is to America. Other countries cheat, subsidize industries, manipulate currencies, and thwart reasonable protections for the environment, persons who work, and consumers. Many American small businesses are suffering as a result of such practices, and we must work to prevent further unfair disadvantages in the global market.

A rapidly formed culture of business globalization has sometimes been detrimental to Americans who work skillfully with their hands to craft products and in manufacturing industries. Transnational companies are not always capable of grasping that certain trade efficiencies put America at a domestic economic disadvantage, often most pronounced in our manufacturing sector. International arrangements present challenges to America’s smaller enterprises, which sometimes struggle to compete in an uneven global playing field. The notion of “free trade” is idealized and academic.
However, as we fully examine the issues involved, we must also consider the benefits of trade. Trade does matter, especially to Nebraska’s farmers and livestock producers, who compete very successfully in the global market. Nebraska has one of our nation’s lowest unemployment rates, due in part to the significant multiplier effects of agricultural exports. With the advance of free market economics around the world, we have seen a corresponding advance in environmental protections, stability, and security.  Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty, and saved from ravaging disease and hunger, bringing stability and security as well. Herein lies the globalization dilemma: At a time when economic stresses, security crises, and cultural clashes are driving people apart, technology is expanding and binding different peoples closer together.

The modern global community of nations is rapidly changing. We no longer live in an unipolar world. As we rebuilt Europe after World War II, picked up the pieces of colonialism, and countered the destructive collectivist ideology of communism, our economy transitioned into resource interdependence. We sacrificed much to offer the world America’s deeper values, economic system, and political model. We should expect from the world fair trading conditions, respect for human rights, and just governing structures.

Instead of subsidizing the present settlement and acquiescing to dehumanizing economic and political concentrations, a vibrant market is served when it is vibrantly local, where real people make things and exchange them with their neighbor. Of course larger entities have their place, but in the context of this discussion, reviving the “Made in America” label is more important than ever. We must understand the value of buying our own products and selling them overseas, while also carefully examining the current disadvantages that small businesses have in competing successfully. In order to harmonize the expansion of global trade, local market economies, and our values, American corporations should turn to America first.