Safe Toys, Edible Food, Smart Globalization

Why is it that people who question globalization are treated like Neanderthals?

You’re a protectionist, critics charge. Globalization is here to stay; you can’t turn back the clock, you Neanderthal! Besides, look at all the great stuff we get for cheap!

Well, we can get a lot of great stuff. A lot of it is cheap. But sometimes the low price just hides costs elsewhere. Smart globalizers want to manage the process and make sure the price reflects the reality.

The Campaign for America’s Future recently published two reports that reveal the seamy underside of globalization. Toxic Toys is about Halloween candy buckets and Barbie doll accessories imported from China and coated with lead-based paint. It’s about drinking cups with 39,000 parts per million of lead when the legal standard is 600 parts per million. Why the worry? The budget of the Consumer Product Safety Commission is half what it was in 1974 in real dollars. It’s staffed by former lobbyists and industry cronies who deny there’s a problem and obstruct efforts at reform.

Even people who don’t use toys tend to eat. Our second report, Eating Dangerously, examines the food industry and finds the same disregard for health. Since 1973, agricultural imports have increased by 78 percent while inspections decreased exactly the same 78 percent. Yet the FDA’s own research indicates that pesticide violations and infections from shigella and salmonella occur roughly three times as often in imported food.

The stories are painfully familiar. A million pounds of Chinese seafood sold in the U.S with carcinogens and antibiotics not approved for use in the U.S. Half a million pounds of cantaloupes consumed from Mexico and Costa Rica with salmonella contagion. Even cats and dogs aren’t safe. Melamine, a nitrogen-rich chemical used to make fertilizer and plastic, made its way into 60 million cans and pouches of pet food.

Tomatoes are today’s trouble. Are they from Mexico or Florida? Eventually we’ll find out. The problem remains the same.

If we were serious about global trade, we would charge something for the price of admission to U.S. markets. We can still open our doors to global trade. But trading partners need to take the melamine out of the pet food, the lead out of the children’s toys, and the pesticides out of the cantaloupe. Those are the standards we hold U.S. manufacturers to; if you want access to our market, you need to play by our rules.

That’s not Neanderthal. That’s smart.

Smart globalizers want to draft standards into trade agreements. They want to inspect enough cargo to provide a credible risk of detection or hold U.S. companies liable for distribution and sale.

The U.S. isn’t doing enough of that. Free market conservatives are in charge. Spellbound by the ideology of the marketplace, they ignore the obvious fact that markets need grown-up supervision. Historically, that’s the role of government. To create collective institutions that protect shared interests in ways that individuals can’t. Lead testing. Pesticide testing. Evaluating the carcinogenic properties of fertilizer.

We can build a government to serve our interests, or we can leave it to the logic of the market and race to the bottom.

Progressives want to evolve. Who’s the Neanderthal?

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