The 112th Congress has begun to govern and the results of our November election have begun to take the reins of government. The economy is the issue that concerns many Americans and this congress will have to consider domestic and foreign policy based on its effect on the national economy. Of course, in the age of globalization, our economy continues to be very much integrated with the global economy. Any shift in the global market will have repercussions to our own national economy.
Economic policy analysts in 2011 have rightfully set their gaze on China as they evaluate the state of the global economy. The days of talking about the rise of China as a major economic power are over. Prior to the 2008 recession the projection that was made by Goldman Sachs was that China’s economy would surpass the US economy by 2027, now that transitional moment seems to creeping closer. However Americans feel about the emergence of China the fact of the matter is that as a nation we cannot ignore the new economic balance of power as we consider our role in the global economy and the effect that it will have on our own national economy.
When Daniel Drezner wrote his 2006 policy paper for the Council on Foreign Relations “U.S. Trade Policy: Free vs. Fair” in 2006 Drezner continued to assert some policy assumptions regarding free trade that had dominated Presidential administrations for the past 30 years. One of these assertions is that trade alleviates poverty throughout the world. That trade has shown to create economic growth is true enough, but the thought that it is eliminating poverty is well in doubt. The social teaching of the Catholic Church continues to share its concern over “The scandal of glaring inequalities” as Pope Benedict XVI referred to it in his recent social encyclical.
But with regards to China two other assertions about free trade need to be questioned. The first is that free trade is an automatic stimulus for freedom and democratic principles. Certainly many of us thought that the Tiananmen massacre was perhaps the beginning of such a development but by now it seems that China has found a formula for maintaining an authoritarian political system within a market economy. The other assertion is that free trade advances our national interest with other countries by creating a diplomatic link through our economic relationship which would make them favorable towards policies that benefit the United States. A recent Foreign Policy article by Gideon Rachman, chief foreign-affairs commentator for the Financial Times, described a number of recent policy struggles between the U.S. and China:
At the G-20 summit in November, the U.S. drive to deal with “global economic imbalances” was essentially thwarted by China’s obdurate refusal to change its currency policy. The 2009 climate-change talks in Copenhagen ended in disarray after another U.S.-China standoff. Growing Chinese economic and military clout clearly poses a long-term threat to American hegemony in the Pacific. The Chinese reluctantly agreed to a new package of U.N. sanctions on Iran, but the cost of securing Chinese agreement was a weak deal that is unlikely to derail the Iranian nuclear program.
If nothing else the global balance of power between the United States and China must be reviewed if we are to make smart strategic policy decision with regards to how we will utilize trade and how we will address the global economy. The gospel of market fundamentalism and the myth that free trade cures all global ills must be dispelled. If indeed the United States has come to a point in its history that it can no longer be the preeminent economic and military engine for the world then perhaps a new global strategy should be considered and a new lens for developing global economic relationships.
I would suggest that the prophetic tradition of economic justice may offer us some insight as to how we may consider trade and global economic policies for these times. Free trade is not part of the prophetic lexicon but a fair and equitable economic system is. Micah is often considered the prophet of economic justice because in his critical condemnation he makes it a point to highlight the corrupt and unfair economic practices in Judah and Israel.
Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is accursed? Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths. (Micah 6:10-12)
Micah goes on to prophesy with regards to what a nation can expect to achieve with economic injustice.
Therefore I have begun* to strike you down, making you desolate because of your sins. You shall eat, but not be satisfied, and there shall be a gnawing hunger within you; you shall put away, but not save, and what you save, I will hand over to the sword. (Micah 6: 13-14)
Verses 13 and 14 seem particularly relevant for the recent history of American global dominance. What has our unsustainable wealth done for us? We consume and consume without any satisfaction. The virtue of saving has been virtually nonexistent and we have become quite comfortable with deficits and debts. We shout and cringe at Government spending on social service but rarely is there any critique of our robust military budget. Are these not the critiques that Micah offers the kingdoms of Israel and Judah? Are these criticisms not relevant for us today?
Catholic social teaching has commented on the issue of economic justice and the U.S. Bishops wrote the document “Economic Justice for All” in 1986 which continues to be very much relevant for us today. But what I am suggesting with this article is that the emerging global power shift between the United States and China should be an opportunity for us to seriously reconsider our global economic policies and relationships in light of a global economic future that may not be our own. This is the time to seek a new paradigm for the participation of the U.S. with the global economy.
Part of this paradigm needs to reconsider our multilateral relationships. China now is competing with us for the markets of the under developed nations. African and Latin American nations have opened their doors to China. So far China, like America before them, relates with these nations in a way that benefits their own national interest. America is crafting smart relationships with key partners such as India and Brazil but China is also engaging in this economic tug of war. America and China have a similar approach insofar as they both seek their own national interest; only the size of the carrots varies from one nation to the next. What if America engaged with these nations not for our own national interest but for a more altruistic pursuit of global economic justice? What if instead of creating key partnerships and ignoring others we sought to participate with others in designing a functioning global economic regime that would create a basic standard and regulatory system that would promote an equitable global market that would benefit all the nations. China’s undervaluation of its currency is a protectionist tactic that has led to global economic imbalances and job losses in America. It is time that America works with the nations in creating an effective system that enforces regulations such as these.
Pope Benedict XVI identifies the need for creating a functioning and just global economic system in his recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate”. Here he lays out some basic principles for creatinng such a system.
Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. #37
A global economic system needs to create rules for trade and monetary value but this system will have to also incorporate two other elements for equitable and just growth. One is a judicial system that protects social and ecological repercussions of the global economy. Another element to consider is a form of systemic charity for those who either benefit the least or are burdened by the global economy. In this way every individual and community has a fair opportunity to engage in a sustainable development model that works for them.
With the shifting balance of power the debate between promoting free vs. fair economy should not be seen as a tension between a moral framework (fair) vs. our national interest (free). Instead we should now be able to identify a fair and just economic model within our own national interest.