A recent Gallup Poll shows that more Americans have a positive view of foreign trade than a negative one. (Americans Shift to More Positive View of Foreign Trade)
Fifty-seven percent view trade as “an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports,” while 35% see it as “a threat to the economy from foreign imports.” During the prior two years, Americans were evenly divided in their opinions about trade.
Why is this important?
In a globally connected world, international trade is the lifeblood of growth and development. And yet, so few people know anything how much international trade affects their individual lives.
There are the obvious connections, but few think about it:
- Imported goods from China at the local Wal-Mart
- All the Toyotas,Hondas, Hyundis, etc. on the road.
But there is also:
- Iconic American beer is owned by the Brazilian company AmBev
- The majority owner of Burger King is the Brazilian investment firm, 3G.
- Columbia Records and Columbia Pictures are owned by Sony, a Japanese company
- TomTom, the popular GPS firm is a Dutch company.
- And, FYI: Holland is the 3rd largest foreign investor in the U.S. at $217.1 billion
The list goes on and on.
And none of that, the treaties that allow for protection of American companies making sales overseas or allowing foreign companies to invest in the US, can happen without a fully functioning and staffed foreign service. To be clear, my wife is a career diplomat, but the foreign service also includes people from the Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Justice, Labor, etc.
A country does not remain prosperous unless it finds new markets for its goods and services. As more countries develop — Brazil — they become competitors. It is in the economic well-being of the United States and its companies to help impoverished countries develop strong democratic institutions and strong economies. Helping farmers in Honduras come out of poverty and ensure their children are educated means fewer illegal immigrants to the United States but more importantly future clients for American products.
That means foreign aid is an important factor in the economic well-being and security of the United States.
Unfortunately, foreign aid and the foreign affairs budget in general always seems to be the target of budget cutters.
Phil Plait — The Bad Astronomer — wrote about the budgeting cutting mania aimed at NASA. His complaint could be just as true for the foreign affairs budget.
[I]f you have a hard drive full of 4 Gb movie files, you don’t make room by deleting 100kB text files! You go after the big targets, which is far more efficient.
In the case of NASA, the space agency budget is just a little less than 1% of the federal budget.
In a survey in 2010, the Program for Public Consultation asked people to estimate how much of the federal budget goes to foreign aid. The average estimate was 21%. The average response for how much would be “appropriate” was 10 percent.
And the real number for foreign aid: About 0.5%
The real number for ALL non-military foreign affairs activities: About 1.5%.
Yep! That small amount accounts for all the salaries of all the U.S. diplomats and local employees in embassies around the world, the rent, maintenance and repairs for all embassies and consulates, all the costs for the State Department headquarters and related buildings in Washington, all the processing of passports, all the trade negotiations, all the Commerce Department assistance to American businesses looking to sell goods and services overseas, all the marketing of US agriculture goods to other countries and all the foreign aid that helps bring millions of people out of poverty.
Another way to look at it:
- The U.S. military spends more on its marching bands than the State Department pays for its diplomats.
- There are more soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen in marching bands than there are U.S. diplomats.
So why is the foreign affairs budget always under attack? Basically it is because there is no constituency for foreign affairs. The State Department does not build factories in just about every congressional delegation (as does the Pentagon). So the only people who care about the budget are either so-called “budget hawks” or people involved in international affairs. And because the issues of foreign affairs do not fit on a bumper sticker, few people care until something bad happens.
And this all gets back to the Gallup survey on the value of foreign aid.
If more reporters opened their eyes, they could see how their local economies are dependent on international connections. Or how international events have a direct impact on local events.
It would help if the State Department would also encourage its people to step out and start explaining to the general public about why having a foreign service is important to the economic well-being of the United States. Yes, some do, but too many do not.
It would be nice to see more discussions taking place in high schools and local news outlets about the local-global connections.
And — most importantly — how the economic well-being of the United States depends on international affairs and international trade.
Face it, this ain’t the 1950’s any more. It ain’t the 1960’s or 1970’s. This is the 21st century and that means reaching across borders for goods, services and accommodations.