How to Save Globalization: Rebuilding America’s Ladder of Opportunity

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Written by Kenneth Scheve, a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International StudiesThe Europe Center, and Matthew Slaughter, the Paul Danos Dean and Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business at Dartmouth College. This opening excerpt comes from an article originally published by Foreign Affairs.

We live in a time of protectionist backlash. U.S. President Donald Trump has started a trade war with China, upended the North American Free Trade Agreement, imposed tariffs on the United States’ closest allies, withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and talked endlessly about building a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. But the backlash against globalization goes far beyond Trump himself. In fact, his presidency is more a symptom of it than its cause. Even as they may decry Trump’s particular methods, many voters and politicians in both parties approve of his objectives.

By now, it is well known that this backlash followed a dramatic rise in inequality in the United States. Whether one looks at the percentage of income going to the highest earners (the top ten percent earn 47 percent of national income now, versus 34 percent in 1980), differences in income across educational groups (the premium that college-educated workers earn over high-school-educated workers nearly doubled over the same period), or stagnating real wage performance for many workers (the median real weekly wages for men working full time have not grown at all since 1980), the United States has become markedly more unequal over the past four decades. That period was also characterized by rapid globalization and technological change, which, as a large body of research demonstrates, helped increase inequality.

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Faculty views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies or Stanford University, both of which are nonpartisan institutions.