Outside the LA Board of Education in 1976, after speaking against undercover cops in class.
“You’re talented, Scott. Why do you have to get up there and lecture your elders about what’s wrong with America? They don’t want to hear it. Why don’t you give them what they want? They will love you if you do, and they’ll shower you with praise. Don’t you want that?”
So spoke my debate coach at Hollywood High, Kay Ross. My debate partner and most of my friends agreed with her. “What’s wrong with winning?”
OK, I thought to myself, early in the spring of 1976. I’ll do it. I’ll pick one big contest and do just what everybody has been telling me to do. I’ll pander to the Authority Figures and see what happens.
The Los Angeles World Affairs Council hosted a speaking contest about World Trade. I decided this would be an ideal opportunity to show my coach and classmates that I could be as good as anybody at “bringing home the brass.” Ideas be damned – it’s all about winning!
Let’s journey back in time and read what I had to say to my beloved Adult Authority Figures on April 27, 1976:
World Trade Means More Jobs
World trade has been responsible for many major accomplishments throughout the history of our civilization. The new world was discovered because merchants wished to find easier trade routes to the East. Major European nations established colonies in America in order to be the best at harvesting the tremendous resources available to those eager merchants who wished to refine and transport them. The United States was established largely because of disputes over the regulation of trade, and countless wars have been fought throughout history over trade rights.
Trade is considered so important because there are tremendous economic advantages at stake – advantages best gained by open and free trade. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “the craft of the merchant is to bring a thing from where it abounds to where it is costly.” A company which transports products to places where they are needed usually turns a healthy profit as well as providing a needed service or commodity.
Another value of trade is as follows: World trade means more jobs. According to the U.S. Labor Department, 70,000 American jobs are created for every billion dollars spent on foreign trade. Our domestic unemployment statistics are certainly affected by our success in world trade.
American wages are the highest in the world. At the same time, the labor costs per unit are lower here than they are in most countries: even lower than in nations which pay only ten or eleven cents an hour to those who ship or produce merchandise.
One reason for this is that American workers are among the most productive workers in the world. For example, an American worker produces almost twice as much merchandise per man hour as a British worker does. Another example is that an American coal miner gets paid eight times as much as a Japanese worker – he also digs coal fourteen times as fast. One result of this is that America sells millions of dollars’ worth of coal to Japan every year.
Trade statistics show the value of good labor – we export more merchandise outside our borders than any other country in history. We sell 59% more to Western Europe than we buy in return; 73% more to Japan than we buy.
Many people in America have grave doubts about the value of foreign trade. They suggest that America should not take the risks required to develop a broad program of international trade. They complain that imports hurt American business and take away American jobs. While it is true that such trade does eliminate some jobs and make some American businesses less viable, at the same time it creates many more jobs – and it makes many businesses more profitable.
It is very easy for an average citizen to be misled about the relative merits of international trade, because foreign imports are very visible, while exports are only a statistic in the financial section of the newspaper.
The record shows that America imports roughly 15 billion dollars’ worth of goods a year, and exports about 20 billion dollars’ worth. If we closed our borders, we would lose 5 billion a year.
The Department of Labor also says that four million jobs depend on trade, while no more than 400,000 jobs have been lost or cut back because of imported goods. The record also shows that there are ten jobs related to our exports for every one job whose loss might be ascribed to imports.
It should be known how important international trade is to other countries as well as to our own. Japan could never have had a chance to ever achieve any real post-war success if she had not been a competitive and aggressive member of the international trade community. The ability to export specific goods to the American market is vital to the success of many of the world’s smaller nations.
Americans should realize that America needs the majority of goods that she imports. We may not need Datsun cars or Panasonic radios, but we do need raw materials like tin and magnesium, and we enjoy coffee and bananas.
60% of the goods imported by the United States are products that are not produced in any great amount in this country. In order for us to get the merchandise that we do need and enjoy, we must also accept some that we could do without.
Many of the imported products that do compete directly with American-made goods have value. One of the reasons, if not the reason for the new variety in American cars is the competitive impact of those small foreign cars.
World trade does not affect the average citizen only through big business. Small businesses are also greatly influenced by international trade. World trade gives the small businessman a greater variety of merchandise to sell at a more varied price range. The increased competition created by a large trade industry on both the local and international levels is healthy. It gives the consumer more goods to choose from.
On the local level, a small businessman who reaps the benefits of foreign trade is able to hire clerks and other assistants as his business grows. On a larger level, when an industry becomes successful as a result of its dealings with other countries, literally hundreds of jobs may be created.
The more people that work, the more prosperous the entire business community becomes. A working man is able to purchase more goods, making it possible for other companies to become successful and hire more workers also.
In addition to spending more money on material things, a working worker does not receive unemployment insurance, or any form of relief from the federal government. This leaves the government free to spend more money on other important things.
On a more personal level, people are generally happier when they are working. As a nation, our level of contentment can be measured alongside the unemployment figures.
One statement that is often made is true: the world is getting smaller every day. We have made great technological advances which reduce the time required to send ideas or goods from one point to another greatly. Today, more than ever, we are our brother’s keeper. The fact that many other countries depend on the markets open to them by world trade for their very livelihood makes our continued dedication to foreign trade almost essential to world prosperity and peace. The fact that such trade is very profitable for American businessmen and workers makes our continued participation in foreign trade satisfying.
The buying and selling of merchandise has been spoken of by many people in many different situations. John Roche once said, “The flow of goods and capital is the livelihood of our world community.” That statement is very true today. I think that a nation’s economic situation is easily determined by its success in foreign trade.
I would like to end this talk with a concise and rousing tribute to the institution of foreign trade, but rather than stumble through all of that, I’ll close by saying:
“The ship of state sails best with the trade winds.”
The last line in this speech was not original. I stole it from a 1940s-era radio sitcom, Fibber McGee and Molly. From start to finish, I wrote the text of this speech as a parody of “the party line” on international trade. I tried to “give them what they want” in such a way that my friends – but not my intended audience – could see my true feelings.
The well-dressed businesspeople loved my speech, gave me first prize, and made wistful observations about how well the world would be served by young leaders such as myself.
“Wonderful, Scott,” exclaimed Mrs. Ross. “I knew you could do it if you put your mind to excellence instead of making everybody sit through another angry outburst!”
I’ve been thinking about this old world trade speech as I ponder the future in light of the British vote to Leave the European Union.
I am a British citizen and I spent a summer studying international law and human rights at Oxford University. All of my upbringing and education – and the ritual pats on the head I got back in the spring of 1976 – push me to be in the Remain camp…and yet I found myself unable to do it.
I’m viscerally thrilled that Leave prevailed – not because it will be good for Britain in the short to mid-term, but because I think it’ll be good for Democracy, both in the UK and in Europe. I see the various “free trade” agreements as anti-democratic and too thoroughly linked to US militarism. President Obama’s rhetoric in favor of these agreements isn’t any more substantial than my teenage ramblings back in ’76.
Maybe with the UK out of the European Union, Germany and France will find it easier to develop a foreign policy independent of the US. Maybe NATO can be disbanded and the Russian olive branches of peace can be accepted. Maybe US military bases in Europe can be closed, quietly, and our troops return home.
Sure, these dreams may seem far-fetched…but five years ago only a handful of right-wingers were arguing for the UK to leave the European Union, and yesterday a decisive majority of my fellow Brits voted to Leave.
Still at it, 40 years later!
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