The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is the same as the last thing I do before I go to bed—I check my iPhone for any important notification I might have missed during the time I spent disconnected. Is that sad? Maybe a little, but I know I’m not the only one who does it. In fact, if you’re a college student or millennial, you’re probably guilty of being overly plugged-in, too. The majority of us love to stay constantly connected with the entire digital world, yet we think very little about what allows us this constant connection; we just do it mindlessly.
But wait, I haven’t even mentioned products. Do you enjoy coffee? Maybe you use a coffee maker? I can’t guarantee this, but I’m pretty sure that your coffee maker, along with the coffee grounds, do not say “Made in the USA” on them. They probably say “Made in *insert foreign country here*.” What about teachers? I’ve had some great ones during my time in college, and I’m willing to bet that you have too. I’ve had great teachers that are from China, the UK, India and more—the list goes on. The teachers I’ve had in college have made a profound impact on me and usually make an impact on the majority of students they teach. Without them, we wouldn’t have people to, like, teach us. Alright, it’s time I get to my point.
I bring up all these different things not to randomly muse, but to make the point that you should buy one of these awesome “I Heart Free Trade” t-shirts, because, without free trade, all of things I just mentioned would be drastically different and our collegiate lives would be collectively worse. My favorite teacher is from Canada. She is short, has a very soft voice and her lectures aren’t so much lectures as they are stories that engage the entire class, helping everyone to learn simultaneously. She is fantastic. Without the spread of globalization and free trade however, she, like many other foreign professors, may not have ended up at my school at all.
Free-trade agreements are essentially deals that the United States signs with other nations allowing there to be an exchange of people, ideas and products between the United States and those countries that signed the agreements. When these agreements are enacted, the United States allots work visas to the countries in the deal so that brilliant people (like my professor and probably some of yours) can come here. Now, while it is possible that some teachers would still have made it to your university, the number of these great, foreign teachers would almost certainly be less without free trade.
Another benefit of free trade for us college students is the technology it provides us with. You can pull out your iPhone right now and be used to find a mate, meal, ride, place to stay, etc.; there is an app for everything. College students love these applications primarily because we love our phones. We use these applications every day, and when forced to imagine a life without them, our millennials brain can’t fathom that reality. Here’s the thing though—without free trade, many of us may have lived that reality. It allows us to buy items, such as smartphones, for a substantially cheaper price than would be the case if they were manufactured in America.
This phenomenon is not limited to just smartphones and their applications. Many of the products you use and love are not made here in the United States. For example, that television in your living room, would you have it if it was 35 percent more expensive? We often take for granted that we can get on our computer and order objects that will appear on our doorstep in the next two days, but by doing so we ignore the benefits that free trade brings to our collegiate lives.
Living my life without having experienced a world war is something I’m rather happy about. There are many theories floating around as to why we haven’t had another World War, but I venture that one of the biggest reasons is shared prosperity cultivated by free trade. When one examines the major military conflicts that have occurred throughout world history, a common thread is that the country who started the aggression was always struggling economically and had little to lose. For example, many historians believe that the big reason many Germans turned to the Nazis in the 1930s was because, as a result of the fiscally punitive Treaty of Versailles, the economy in Germany was struggling.
A more modern example might be the volatility of Russia and North Korea. Both countries have weak economies and both countries are hostile actors on the world stage. There are certainly other factors that contribute to their hostility, but it seems clear that the countries’ lack of prosperity, due to a lack of trade, makes them feel as though they have less to lose by acting aggressively. So, with the increase of free trade starting in the 1990s to now, we have lived in a relatively peaceful time period.
Still, despite the prosperity, some people still aren’t convinced that free trade is beneficial; in fact, the institution itself is under attack by our president, as well as some liberals who believe that broadening trade leads to domestic unemployment. As evidence, they point to factories that closed down because the company decided to off-shore, and they say that American lives have been worsened by free trade. That is a false narrative. Yes, it is true that certain companies choose to operate abroad, but to point to all those instances of companies moving abroad as a consequence of free trade is an unfair conclusion. Even economists highlight numerous other reasons for companies outsourcing, such as over-regulation, rising worker wages and cost of domestic overhead.
As college students and millennials, we enjoy a life that is enriched by many luxuries our parents didn’t have at our age. But because we grew up with these benefits, we seem to take them for granted. These luxuries, such as a high standard of living, quality technology, constant connection to the entire world and a peaceful existence, we enjoy not by accident, but by constant effort. Constant effort by our country and others to pursue a more open world with shared prosperity. As a college student, I think free trade fucking rocks.