Lacy MacAuley


a home for my pen, projects, and passions

protectionism, obama, and the Great Wall of China

President Obama’s last stop in his Chinese tour last week was to the Great Wall. After strolling along the wall for about 30 minutes, he stated that the wall reminded him of “the sweep of history.”

Obama visited the Great Wall of China on his recent trip to China. He should have taken a lesson: Protectionism shouldn't be a bad word. Protection is often necessary. Photo: Herbert Ponting, 1907.


What he was likely contemplating was protection versus protectionism. After all, the wall was built during successive dynasties, especially the Ming Dynasty, to keep people out. The wall is the ancient form of a “trade barrier,” a barrier that keeps cultures from trading with each other. The wall is a primitive form of protectionism.

Virtually every corporate pundit out there has been prodding Obama and the People’s Republic of China to just be friends and promote “free trade,” no matter how free the people of China themselves actually are. After all, China is our main trading partner, and the interconnectedness of our economies is tighter than a pair of Chinese handcuffs, right?

Thanks in part to the yuan being kept low, China is able to export on the cheap to other countries. For every $1 of US goods that Chinese import, they export $4 of Chinese goods to us. China also has our US government by the scruff of the neck in terms of debt: The US owes China $800 billion in US Treasury bonds alone. Meanwhile, China’s exports cause fully one fourth of its massive output of greenhouse gasses.

It might be time to protect our economy from Chinese domination, and protect our own. At the same time we would be acting to curb greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention bring back some of those manufacturing jobs from Chinese people who would otherwise be “surplus labor” (as a pro-development economist might say) on the farms. (Read: They would have been kicking back and relaxing on the farm, rather than keeping up the grueling weekly work cycles many currently keep in cramped sweatshops, living far from their families in the factory towns.

The pundits should take a long, rock-solid lesson from one of the world’s seven natural wonders. Sometimes countries have to act to protect themselves. This is certainly the case now as our nation faces a crisis of indebtedness, and Chinese officials continue to work to keep the yuan low to starve our country of the ability to craft its own manufactured goods.


Filed under: activism, climate justice, consumerism, environmentalism, global justice, international relations

One Response

  1. hotsauce says:

    Hello Lacy,

    “Kicking back and relaxing on the farm” might well be “starving in the countryside”. China had problems with starvation and malnutrition before industrialization (just as we did), and since industrialization China has lifted tens of millions out of poverty (fully half of the world’s poor lifted out of poverty in the last ten years have been Chinese by China’s industrialization). Chinese workers go to work because they want to–would American workers prefer to chill on farms instead of have jobs?

    Neither currency management nor pollution are the sole province of China. When America had an industry, it was responsible for industrial pollution, too. American consumers can demand less pollution, but they truth is that they prefer cheaper goods from Wal-Mart.

    America’s problem is that both consumers and government want to spend more than they make, then look for a scapegoat when the bills start piling up. We simply do not work as hard or produce as much as the rest of the world (yes, we have trade problems with a hundred countries) and it is ugly nationalism to think that the Chinese can’t win work on their own merits and must need a weak currency. Lacy, if you’re really interested in economics and the inter-related factors that explain outcomes, I can recommend “Hard Heads, Soft Hearts” and “When China Rules the World”.

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