|Written by: Roma Parikh|
Program Intern, World Affairs Council
Student, University of Georgia
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States of America has been the unequivocal world leader. As a nation, rightly so, we have pursued policies that put America first for even longer. However, the consequences (intended or otherwise) of those policies on other nations and their citizens was never taken into consideration, never needed to be taken into consideration. Perhaps one of the best examples of how ‘America First’ policies have had disastrous effects on other countries and America itself is the trade war propagated by protectionist policies and the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff. What Congressmen in their day felt were policies meant to help policies to help Americans, the quickly globalizing nature of the world showed how much they could hurt.
So, yes, I want American citizens to thrive. I want my mom’s small business, a daycare center in Dallas, GA, to be successful. I want to reduce how many American lives that are lost in war, in conflict, and in protecting my freedom. But do America first policies really deliver on what they promise?
From debates ranging from whether or not the $20 billion spent annually on agricultural subsidies is a worthwhile investment to whether or not the drone program (expanded and championed by the Obama administration) is the most cost-effective and successful method, the answer seems to be: America first policies aren’t quite cutting it.
During the Great Depression, agricultural subsidies were vital to our nation’s food security; drone technology did not even exist then. As times change, the world becomes global, and technology evolves, so should America first policies. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau on foreign trade reflects one aspect of this. Canada is our top trading partner clocking in 266 million in exports and 277 million in imports in 2016 alone. Likewise, Mexico in a close second was 229 million in exports and 292 million in imports. The U.S. economy does not exist without trade between us and Canada and Mexico.
President Trump announced negotiations on NAFTA – an attempt to rewrite the trade agreement to favor American businesses, such as the auto industry, which was hard-hit by the outdated and unfair terms of NAFTA. While the negotiations may level the playing field and update this important free trade agreement in light of technological changes, the heart of this policy is to put America first by promoting protectionist policies at the expense of U.S consumers and the economy: a decrease in quality of the produce and products we have come to expect while the cost of these items soars drastically.
While economics and trade relations are complex subjects that shouldn’t and often can’t be reduced to this policy is good and that one is bad, the scenario with NAFTA is just one instance of how America first policies and those who champion them fail to envision the whole picture and therefore do not anticipate the damage it can cause. For too long, America first policies have been America only policies – with a mentality of empathy and investment, we lay seeds to reap the benefits when harvest comes.
So, I ask again, can we afford to be ‘America First’?