Being the child of an engineer and a math teacher, recent headlines claiming that a liberal professor out there somewhere said that Americans are not graduating high school because they cannot pass 9th grade algebra caught my attention. The thrust of the articles read is that Americans are ceding even MORE to countries overseas because we cannot compete academically.
To be honest, the lack of native born American smarts may have something to do with highly intelligent people having 2.0 children or less, but in reality has more to do with the plain and simple fact that algebra is, at its core, not about math, but about logic and learning how to think. It is about abstract thought and learning to use the brain in steps, proving a truth that y=x+1 when x is a variable that can have any value. For people who are not hardwired by the age of 15 to be able to handle abstract thought, algebra is a struggle. (My teacher parent had to devise methods to teach algebra to people who needed visuals. It is actually a real problem for a significant portion of the human population.)
(Okay, that solve for y formula is an oversimplification, but we’re not solving for volumes of a revolution here. That’s calculus. Hated calculus.)
Learning to think is not something that the combination of the American education system, coupled with the mainstream media and a social system of working in cubicle farms scores of hours every week, encourages the people to do any more. Part of that is to keep the people from reading documents like, say, trade deals, and being able to logically think through the consequences of “free trade” as opposed to “fair trade.”
Free trade is just what it sounds like. Every country does what it wants. Fair trade implies that the playing field is level and that import tariffs are roughly equal even with floating exchange rates. It also implies that workers in the various industries world wide have similar salaries. Rules and laws for doing business within the various countries have the same protections for intellectual property, etc., within the borders of all trading partners. In an ideal world, or with negotiators willing to walk away from the trade deal table rather than make a bad one, fair trade is the way to go.
Unfortunately for the United States, rather than take the Reaganesque route of “No deal is better than a bad deal,” we are now living with the results of bad trade deals, and agreements. They are known as the North American Free Trade Agreement (1994), the World Trade Organization (1994, the offspring of GATT which actually was not ratified by the United States), and most recently the Trans Pacific Partnership which has been called NAFTA on steroids.
The results of these deals have been the not so gradual exporting of jobs, and the destruction of the industrial base in the United States. Since the U.S. doesn’t have much of a tariff (and hasn’t really since WWII), and many of our trading partners do, all sorts of stuff gets dumped into the market here with really low prices since labor is much cheaper in other countries undercutting American made goods. In addition, in places like China, the concept of “intellectual property” is not respected, so even more goods that rip off technology developed on these shores ends up on the market at much lower prices.
On the flipside, American goods are not competitive overseas due to the protectionist nature of other governments, so the oldest law of economics, SUPPLY VS DEMAND kicks in, and the cheapest goods are consumed all while the expensive stuff – American, usually – languishes on the shelves, all because no one in American government wants to start a trade war, even if that sort of war is more effective at helping the people than wars with tanks and bullets. (Those sorts of wars have their place, but they are massively expensive to perpetuate.)
What escapes the people who are making these sweetheart deals for other countries at the expense of working Americans is that the people who actually do understand algebra as described above and who ARE the displaced industrial workers of the United States have been betrayed by our own government for decades, and we know it. Hiding behind euphemisms like “Favored nation status” and letters strung together to save space in journalism stories, the entrenched forces of government and, actually, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have sold out the people living on the fruited plain, and they aren’t happy about it.
For decades, no one has talked about this openly even if the anger and, actually, poverty has been building in the heartland. Then along comes a brash and common man who made a fortune in real estate in the United States despite these rules that favor other nations pointing out that the reason why the people are hurting is because of these sweetheart deals for OTHER COUNTRIES which gave away the American store. Plain and simply, the elite didn’t want that revealed and as a result are demonizing him and his supporters.
None of this means that trade needs to stop. Not at all. The United States has always been a trading nation, and should remain so. But the American government needs to work for the AMERICAN people, not provide a dumping ground for cheap crap from other parts of the world.
For further reading: America’s Economic Descent into Colonial Status