Guest Op-Ed Piece

The United States Needs a Trade Policy

by William Trent Pancoast

The Roman Empire fell because it had too many slaves and not enough taxpayers (so goes one explanation of the Fall). Isn’t the United States in a similar situation? Our goods are made cheaply by workers (Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese, etc.) enslaved by corporations and we no longer have the robust tax base of fairly compensated American workers making the products we need to buy.

Slavery is illegal in this country. Yet we allow corporations making products with slave labor to ship their goods here unquestioned. In South America little girls are locked in maquiladora compounds sewing brand-name-label clothing. In China, in the steel mill that fabricated the new San Francisco bridge, the workday is sixteen hours long and the pay less than a dollar an hour. In India, small children help manufacture the goods we buy. Why are we letting these morally-tainted products into our country without scrutiny through trade policies and regulations?

The twin evil of the above lack of labor standards is the lack of environmental regulations among our trading partners. There are basic laws in the United States that prohibit corporations from dumping waste and polluting our air, land, and water. Corporations have run from these American laws to countries that have no environmental regulations. Remember the Olympics in China? The smog was so thick that all manufacturing was shut down long before the games were to begin. Chinese rivers are toxic from the industrial waste that corporations dump in them. Why should we let goods manufactured in countries with no environmental regulations into our country unquestioned?

Without good-paying industrial jobs, the United States will eventually lose its middle class. The tax base will continue to erode. Our infrastructure will decline further. The wealthy, and especially corporations, have made it clear that they do not intend to help out with the tax burden, either in the short term or long term.

Do we need tariffs on goods manufactured by slaves in toxic environmental conditions and imported to our country? Maybe. Do we need to reign in the global exploitation of labor and the environment by corporations. Yes, for sure. Corporations need to start behaving. They need to be held accountable for their actions worldwide and pay their fair share of taxes.

There is a lot of yammering going on in Washington about our economy and the decline of our way of life. Our representatives talk about creating jobs, but it goes unsaid that many of our manufacturing jobs now reside in third world countries and that getting these jobs back is what we need to do. They have apparently thrown in the towel, willing to let corporations despoil both the lives of foreign workers and the world’s environment, and at the same time use the United States for the consumer (until the money runs out) dumping grounds for these tainted products.

We need a trade policy in this country. It needed to be started 30 years ago, but today will work. Corporations need to improve their behavior, and they will never do it voluntarily. Our elected representatives in Washington need to start acting like they form a government. Formulating a trade policy would be a good place to start.


William Trent Pancoast‘s novels include WILDCAT (2010) and CRASHING (1983). His short stories, essays, and editorials have appeared in Night Train, The Righteyeddeer, The Mountain Call, Solidarity magazine, US News & World Report, and numerous labor publications.  Labeled a “blue collar writer” by the Wall Street Journal in 1986 because of his working class writings, Pancoast recently retired from the auto industry after thirty years as a die maker and union newspaper editor. Born in 1949, the author lives in Ontario, Ohio.

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