from the way the Bureau of Labor Statistics collected data to the way corporate accounting was handled—pinned to a vision of trade oriented toward a national system, when in fact companies were oriented towards a global economy? He called the latter “the central political question of our time.”

WHAT DOES “PROTECTIONISM” AIM TO PROTECT?

Mr. Socas reiterated that he had observed a high level of grass-roots concern about these issues, adding that “average people” believed politicians to be exploiting them. The negative epithet “protectionist” obscured the question of what was being protected—the answer to which, he asserted, was the American system and the American community. He rejected a comparison between current reservations about free trade and the motivations for the “Buy American” campaigns of two decades before, characterizing the latter as efforts to shield Ford from its failure to invest in just-in-time manufacturing or to reward “workers that [had] lost their way.” Now at issue was giving U.S. workers, who had suddenly been exposed to many new competitors worldwide, a shot at trying to compete. They needed the skills that would allow them to continue to command the high wages and opportunities “that, frankly, the whole structure of our country is founded on.”

Ronil Hira

Rochester Institute of Technology

Declaring himself free of the orthodoxy shaping debates surrounding the issue of “free trade vs. protectionism,” Dr. Hira observed that both terms were somewhat vague and that they tended to be “situationally implemented.” As to the specific issue of software, he recalled the 1980s question of whether manufacturing matters, asking whether software matters. “If it does,” he stated, “we need to think about how to go about making software a viable profession and career for people in America,” since the field did not appear sufficiently attractive at present. He expressed his impatience with what he termed “the old stories of ‘We just have a bad K-12 math and science education’ ” as the reaction to a call for policy alternatives. While educational improvement was in order, it was also important to think through and debate all possible options rather than tarring some with a “protectionist” or other unacceptable label and “squelching them before they come up for discussion.”



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