Why History Urges Caution on Proposed Trade Deal


Many 21st-century Americans like to believe that globalization—like sex, profanity, and partisan media—is an invention of the modern era.

But of course it is not.

Nevermind NAFTA. Consider, instead, the case of a 16th-century enslaved African man, forcibly transported to the Caribbean to grow South Asian sugarcane for English consumers. Or the story of an early-modern South American indigenous person, put to work in the Bolivian silver mines, so fat cats in Europe could buy Chinese porcelain and Indian Ocean spices.

And yet this long history of globalization is rarely invoked in contemporary debates over globalization—most recently in the wrangling between Congress and President Obama over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal (currently stuck in legislative limbo until at least late July, as President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner search for a path forward). Instead, pundits focus on the abstract metrics that tend…

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