Free Trade or Protection? Free to Shop

While political and economic elites negotiate the reduction of barriers to free trade and activists demonstrate vehemently against its benefits for multinational corporations, a silent revolution is going on around the world. More and more people are defining themselves as consumers rather than workers. In developed economies more than forty percent of the electorate is outside the labour force. In newly industrialising as well as rich countries, people have more money to spend on consumer goods – and what they choose to buy accounts for the great growth in multinational firms.

The World Today
3 minute READ

Richard Rose

There are good reasons for people to be confused about trade. In high-wage countries, they may feel their jobs threatened by increased imports from low-wage competitors and think trade barriers will protect them. But as consumers, individuals may want the freedom to spend whatever money they have on goods of their own choice, whether foreign or domestic.

However, lobbyists for multinational corporations and political activists in the streets are each trying to impose a single viewpoint on everyone, whether that of Davos man or Seattle woman.

To learn what ordinary people think about global trade as consumers and workers, the Ipsos-Reid Autumn 2001 Global Poll of public opinion in twenty countries on five continents asked people whether they thought protection or trade promotion was more likely to improve national economic conditions. It went on to inquire whether it was good or bad for people to be able to buy the products of multinational companies.

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