What most American voters don’t know about plate tectonics would kill a bull. Still, something deep in the North American continent and the American consciousness has shifted to alter our adopted land and its political landscape.
For example, the Ides of March brought both the 2,060th anniversary of Caesar’s assassination in the Roman Forum and swaying-in-the-wind, yellow daffodils to my central Illinois backyard. That has to be the earliest any daffodil dared to shout “Spring!” in these parts in, well, 2,060 years. Shouts from the presidential campaign trail, however, tell us that nature has it wrong and politicians have it right.
Climate change — nature’s adaptive reaction to the warming world — is a hoax, we Americans hear multiple times each day. This is especially entertaining coming from a political climber like now-fallen Sen. Marco Rubio whose hometown, Miami, will, according to estimates by both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, be hip-deep in the Atlantic Ocean in just three generations.
Privately, farmers know climate change is not a hoax. Regardless of where they farm, what they farm, and how they farm, they know their ever-in-charge partner, Mother Nature, is changing fast and they are running to keep up. That’s not only the way it is, that’s the way it’s always been. Nature drives; we ride. For proof, go ask a dinosaur. (And, no, Bill Clinton doesn’t count.)
Trade is another politically charged topic that is always changing. Evidence of this change comes from two, polar opposite presidential candidates; the avowed socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and the ever-reaffirming narcissist, Republican frontrunner Donald J. Trump. Their trade platforms essentially — remarkably — are nearly identical.
“As different as Donald Trump and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are,” noted a U.S. News & World Report story published March 14, “…[b]oth…are, at their heart, protectionists. Both believe in tariffs and other obstacles to prevent foreign-made goods from competing with American-made goods…”
This old world reaction to trade imbalances rarely worked in the past and it will not work to counter new challenges — like currency manipulation and corporate global supply chains — faced by today’s chronic deficit traders like, ahem, the U.S.
Rules of the road
True, currency manipulation and transnational corporate trade are big reasons why “…the real wage for blue-collar manufacturing workers in the United States is essentially unchanged over the past 35 years, while productivity in the sector is up more than 200 percent,” argues Jared Bernstein in a March 14 New York Times column. But, explains Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., “The evidence just isn’t there” to “buy the statistically strained arguments about F.T.A.s [Free Trade Agreements] delivering growth and jobs.”
Today’s trade agreements are just “rules of the road;” they’re not actual trade. This new reality — trade can deliver increased sales without “delivering growth and jobs” — is more about globalization and deeply interconnected global markets than it is about “trade” or free trade deals, he says. Hillary Clinton, the front-running Democratic presidential candidate, recognizes this fact. “Even if the United States never signs another trade deal, globalization isn’t going away,” she recently declared in a Michigan speech.
Farmers also know this is true. For years Land Grant ag economists have noted that free trade deals open paths to U.S. farm exports, they don’t greatly influence sales of U.S. farm goods. Global supply and demand do most of that heavy lifting, and each — as is now the case — is more affected by international currency values than international trade rules.
As such, suggests Bernstein, we “should welcome the end of the era of F.T.A.s, which had long devolved into handshakes between corporate and investor interests” and, instead, begin to “help our exporters fight back against currency manipulators.” Again, privately, farmers know this is true.
What will it take for them and their advocacy groups to publicly recognize free trade agreements as mostly illusion or, for that fact, climate change as a reality? Maybe an earthquake; you know, Mother Nature shaking a few more tectonic plates.
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