Without a doubt, nationalism is an asset in today’s globalized world. Nationalism refers to economic nationalism, which should be viewed as a school of thought that is reflected in governmental policies that place primary emphasis on a specific nation’s economic interests ahead of those of other nations (“Nationalism.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 11th ed., 2003). Economic nationalism, and not any other form of “nationalism” used by others, is the only form of nationalism that is an asset in a globalized world. Therefore, it is only appropriate that when referring to nationalism being an asset in a globalized world, nationalism must be seen through an economic lens.
For the last half-century, orthodox thinking has been, particularly in the West, to reject nationalism in favour of globalization. Originally, the belief was that nationalism had run its course through the protectionism of the Great Depression and the horrors of fascism. Essentially, people felt that nationalism had no place in modern society. Proponents of globalization believed that closely linked economies would ensure peace, bring nations together, and work for the betterment of all people (The Conversation, 2016). At first glance, it appears as if globalization has been a great success. Millions have been lifted out of poverty in formerly third-world countries, consumers in the industrialized world enjoy the benefits of cheap consumer goods, and global per capita incomes have steadily increased since the beginnings of globalization. The truth, however, can be found by taking a closer look at the numbers.
The reality is that the growth in global incomes has been disproportionate. The big winners of globalization have been the richest of the rich, particularly in the West, and the poorest of the developing world, millions of whom have been lifted out of poverty. On the other hand, the working and middle classes of the developed world have not seen much an increase in incomes, if at all, and in many cases, have been greatly harmed by globalization. While many countries across the West are today coming to grips with the negative effects of globalization, there may be no better example to illustrate globalization’s many harms than the United States of America.
From its independence in 1776 to the present day, the United States has often in its history been an ascendant power, fuelled by its economic might. For more than a century, America has been the largest economy in the world, a fact that became indisputable after the Second World War, a time of growth and prosperity, while millions employed in industry formed the backbone of the expanding middle class.
Today, the former heartland of American industry is now dotted with empty factories, shrinking communities, unemployment, and social ills, like addiction for example. For a generation, governments of both parties have pursued globalist policies that have stripped many parts of the country bare. Disastrous free-trade agreements have made it not only easier, but economically prudent, to move jobs to other countries. Manufacturing in America is a tiny shadow of what it once was, and while other factors like automation have contributed to the loss of jobs, many have been lost as a direct result of globalist thinking and globalist-driven policies from American governments. As evidenced, globalization without nationalism has not worked, and a new approach is needed.
While the Western establishment line of thinking has been to unquestioningly embrace nationalism while deliberately rejecting nationalism, several non-Western nations demonstrate that nationalism can not only exist alongside globalization, but can be a driving force that turns the country’s economy into a thriving one. China, perhaps more than any other nation, understands first-hand how globalization and nationalism can work together to completely transform its economy and build up the country and its people.
China’s economic policies can best be described as a union of globalization and nationalism. Nationalist policies include high tariffs on foreign goods, subsidies to attract investment, restrictions on foreign ownership of domestic companies and resources, and a deliberate undervaluing of its currency. These policies have created an environment that has attracted billions of dollars in investments from foreign companies, many from the United States and the West, which have hired millions of Chinese citizens in their factories. Likewise, many other nations that were once mired in poverty are today known as “developing” countries because their economies are growing, allowing these countries to develop. Notably, a great number of these countries practice similarly nationalist policies. Nationalism has clearly shown to have played a major role in helping many countries develop and build, which should serve as a lesson to the globalists in Western governments whose ideology has utterly failed.
The booming cities of China and the malaise of the United States create a drastic picture of two extremes. One nation has embraced nationalism, the other has rejected it, and the results after decades of their divergent paths are unmistakably clear. China has a massive trade surplus, has enjoyed rapid economic growth for years, and has used foreign investments to rebuild its own country and infrastructure. Regardless of how one views China in terms of politics or human rights, the reality is that it has benefited largely from globalization, along with many developing nations, not in spite of, but because of nationalism.
A major reason many in the West are hesitant to embrace nationalism is because they are wary of links to hate-based movements that proved to be horrific in the last century. In America, the term “nationalism” has come to be associated with some of the ugliest elements of human society, including violent racist groups. The fact is, however, that nationalism in terms of being an asset in a globalized world refers only to economic nationalism. While racism and any form of xenophobia or hate-filled ideology should be rightly condemned, people must also resist the urge to tie nationalism with these putrid beliefs, even if they appear to be linked in some nationalist movements today.
The argument that economic nationalism is bad because it fuels racism is frankly addressing the wrong problem. Racism has nothing to do with economic nationalism, other than the fact that racist groups are simply using nationalist movements to further their agenda. Racism was alive and well before the advent of nationalism and will not disappear even if governments deliberately try to quell nationalism. As well, those who believe nationalism is bad because it may lead to the rise of racist groups are no different than those who believe people should stop driving motor vehicles because of the deaths caused by accidents. This argument is not logically sound. Nationalism should not be evaluated based on racist groups that feed off nationalism, but are otherwise unrelated to it and share no causal relationship with nationalism.
Looking ahead, Western governments would be wise to heed the examples of other countries and turn to economic nationalism. However, just as it was a mistake to ignore nationalism in the sole pursuit of globalist policies, it would be an equally damaging error to turn completely to economic nationalism and shut the world out. Relying only on nationalist policies would cripple any country’s economy, raise prices, and hurt the ability of their businesses to compete globally. The forces of globalization simply cannot be halted, and any attempt by a country to do so through completely shunning trade will harm its own economy and aid the economies of other nations.
To solve the problems caused by globalization plaguing the West today, leaders should emulate the nationalist policies of other countries. On one extreme lies the option of pursuing globalist policies and neglecting nationalism, which has long been Western policy. The other extreme involves strict economic nationalism that shuns trade and economic relations with other countries. Both extremes do not work. China has pursued a balanced solution that features nationalist policies designed to mould the forces of globalization in China’s favour, which has aided them greatly. Nations like the United States should follow. Developed nations could pursue nationalism and globalization together through lowering taxes, punishing businesses for moving jobs overseas, or ensuring that trade agreements are fair and do not lead to the massive trade imbalances that exist today.
As the forces of globalization bring nations and economies closer together, each country must find a way to be competitive and succeed. Having seen the disastrous results of blind globalism in the West and the success of developing nations, all countries should pursue nationalism to a reasonable degree. Nationalism, referring to policies that place primary emphasis on a nation’s economy over those of other nations, has brought prosperity to many countries. Likewise, the West needs to recognize that nationalism and globalization are not mutually exclusive, but complementary. The recent election in the United States has illustrated that the desire for nationalist policies within a globalized framework is not a partisan issue, nor is it a bigoted ideology. Nations must act immediately to change their thinking and adopt nationalism, or risk being left behind by both the rapidly changing and powerful forces of globalization and by other nations.
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Name: Gordon Jerick Lee
School: York University
Education Level: Undergraduate Student