TELEGRAPH BLOGS: "British jobs for British workers," the man said - the man in question being Gordon Brown. Those words have now returned to haunt him, on placards brandished by picketing workers at the Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire and the growing number of similar sites to which the protests against the oil company Total's hiring of foreign contractors have spread.
Anyone who tries to dismiss these strikers and protesters as local Luddites, out of touch with the realities of globalisation, should think again. When the slogans being chanted at an industrial plant in Lincolnshire are echoed even more loudly in the US House of Representatives, the Senate and the Oval Office, then we know that protectionism is not a bush fire but a global inferno.
Protectionism is rapidly replacing free trade as the political, if not the economic, orthodoxy. Lord George Bentinck would have loved it (Dizzy was only along for the ride during the Corn Laws debacle, as his subsequent embrace of free trade demonstrated). Globalisation is in retreat. Recessions do funny things like that; and it gets worse as it deepens into full-blown depression, as this crisis will do.
Memo to Gordon: if you want to save the world, do not utter populist protectionist slogans for temporary electoral effect. The United States is returning to its protectionist roots (it never entirely abandoned them) with a vengeance. Not only all iron and steel used in Barack Obama's 1930s re-enactment spectacle is required to be of American provenance, but the Senate has now extended the restriction to virtually all equipment and goods.
The rest of the world will follow suit. It will be an easy transition for France which, behind a cynical rhetoric of free trade, has quietly been implementing Napoleon Bonaparte's Continental System within the framework of EU membership for decades. Once a trading partner espouses protection, one has to reciprocate or be the loser. It becomes a pandemic. Comment here >>> Geraald Warner | Friday, January 30, 2009
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