THE "TIME OF TRUMP" has not been an era
for subtlety, friendly disagreement—or
meaningful classroom discussions about
deeply nuanced subjects such as globalization
and international economic relations.
In the nearly three decades I've
taught these subjects, I have primarily
preached mainstream economics: Trade
is good. Free and fair trade is better. And
while globalization produces winners
and losers, we shouldn't disengage
from—or even slow down—the process.
However, over the past few years, the
world has morphed dramatically. President
Donald Trump has charged other
countries with using trade and currency
policies to "rape" the United States. The
United Kingdom has voted to leave its
comfortable perch within the European
Union, and Italy is toying with following
the Brits out. The polls show large
numbers of people in highly globalized,
well-off countries decrying globalization.
Increasingly, a fierce divide is forming between
groups of people, whether
based on their political parties, religious
affiliations, or socioeconomic status.
I now realize that my comfortable,
centrist approach to teaching has to
morph dramatically as well. How do
we teach our students to think openly
and fearlessly about weighty issues, at a
time when people are so divided? How
do we encourage students to differentiate
fact from opinion, prejudice from
plain speaking, "truthiness" from truth?
How do we give voice to those who feel
disenfranchised by the cold winds of
globalization, while keeping faith in the
economic doctrines that underpin it?
Or, to be more concise: How do we lead
classroom discussions on highly charged
and politicized issues to create teachable
moments rather than sparring matches?
To further complicate matters, I
teach in Boston, Massachusetts, at
Simmons University School of Business,
which I think it's safe to say welcomes a
highly progressive, socially liberal, and
diverse community. But while we take
pride in considering ourselves tolerant
and inclusive, tolerance here is almost
nonexistent for one ideology: right-wing
The vast majority of my students are
deeply progressive, many well to the
left of Bernie Sanders, but I also have
students who are active or retired military,
who tend to skew more toward the
right and often are fiercely loyal to their
commander-in-chief. Our MBA, offered
online, draws students from all over the
country, not just the liberal Northeast.
My students from Massachusetts may
never have met someone who voted
for Trump, but those from Indiana and
Alaska certainly have-and might have
voted for him themselves.
But one thing is certain: Today is a
time for reflection and for tolerance
of different points of view. To ensure
that views from all sides are heard in
my classroom, I engage my students in
tough conversations about the difficulties
that globalization presents.
WHY HATE GLOBALIZATION?
The issues surrounding globalization
frequently surface in my MBA course
Business, Government, and the Global
Economy. I often open our first meeting
with a story: Two bankers are fishing in
a stream, when one looks up and sees a
bear running toward them. Both start to
run, but one stops to change his wading
boots for sneakers. The second banker
shouts, "Are you crazy? You can't hope to
run faster than that bear!" The first replies,
"No, but I can run faster than you!"
The moral of the story: The global
economy is a race in which the slowest
runner will get eaten alive.
I then offer students this quote by
Thomas Friedman, author and columnist
for The New York Times, who wrote:
"If globalization were a sport, it would be
the 100-meter dash, over and over and
over." Events move so quickly that even
the winner can't stop and enjoy it, since
the race is constantly being re-run.
I finish my introduction by citing
some research polls. For example, most
people in the world support globalization
in theory, but their distaste for
globalization in practice is abundant,
especially in advanced economies like
the United States. Barely 17 percent
of Americans believe that trade leads
to higher wages, and only 20 percent
believe it creates new jobs.
I then ask my students: What is this
thing called globalization? One student
volunteers this example: On a recent
visit to Warsaw, Poland, she says, she
used the Uber app (U.S.) to hire an
immigrant driver (Greek) who was using
Waze technology (Israel) and driving a
Toyota-brand car (Japan). That's globalization,
How do we encourage students to differentiate "truthness" from truth?
That sounds good to me, I answer.
But why do people hate it so much?
Hands go up. The first student to
speak offers a litany of reasons: Globalization
increases inequality, making
the rich richer and the poor poorer. It
exploits cheap labor and destroys the environment
in underdeveloped countries.
It sends U.S. jobs to Mexico and Asia,
so that U.S.-based factories close and
workers suffer. It allows multinational
companies to evade taxes, and it is based
on unfair international trade rules.
"You sound just like Donald Trump!"
another student accuses. "You're saying
that it would be better if America was
isolationist!" For most, this is a deadly
insult. Silence falls over the classroom.
But the accuser has a point. In fact,
the U.S. presidential election of 2016
revealed a deep well of anger and anxiety
about globalization in general, and international
trade in particular. Two candidates
at opposite ends of the political
spectrum-Bernie Sanders and Donald
Trump-ran on fiercely protectionist
platforms. We see a similar protectionist
view in the U.K., where the majority
voted for Brexit, and in other European countries that possibly are not far behind.
But while the accuser has a point, so
does the pro-protectionist. It's time to
explore the issue deeper.
FREE TRADE: WHO WINS?
From there, I move the discussion to
free trade versus protectionism. I present
the ideas of Adam Smith and David
Ricardo, who both figured out more than
200 years ago that when countries play
on their strengths, everyone benefits.
Germany exports capital-intensive
goods because it's accumulated masses
of capital, while Vietnam exports
labor-intensive goods because it has a
large pool of cheap labor.
The result is a free trade system that
reduces both the cost of living for all and
the odds of armed conflict. Or, to put it
another way, "When goods don't cross
borders, armies will," a quote commonly
attributed to 19th-century French economist
The winners are consumers who can
buy cheaper clothing, electronics, and
other imported goods; the losers are
workers and businesses that face greater
competition from foreign factories that
produce those cheaper goods. On the
whole, the winners outnumber the losers.
Even so, many students will argue
for trade protection, unaware that they
are echoing the words of candidate
Trump, who called the North American
Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, "the
worst trade deal maybe ever." They cite
millions of jobs lost, especially in industries
such as textiles and steel. They talk
about inequality and worry about environmental
damage in poorer countries,
where weak environmental regulations
could appeal to foreign investors.
I agree that the primary problem with
free trade is that its gains are widely dispersed,
while its costs are concentrated,
borne by a few highly visible groups. But
the few who bear the costs have greater incentive to organize politically than the
many who benefit.
I then share with my students some
expert perspectives. In his April 3, 2016,
Forbes op-ed, "4 Reasons Free Trade Has
Become a Contentious Political and Economic
Issue," economist Jeffrey Dorfman
notes that "free trade was long virtually
the only issue about which all economists
agreed. Free trade was good and moving
toward freer trade was always better than
protectionism. These basic lessons have
been taught for over a century in millions
of economics classes to many millions of
economic students with an unchanging
lesson: Free trade creates a net benefit for
all countries involved."
And, yet, he continues, this net benefit
is more frequently being overlooked.
He writes, "Support for free trade among
the general public and political leaders
is fading fast in the face of a myriad of
complaints about the real-world outcomes
from free trade."
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?
I tell my students that, yes, free trade
produces a diffuse set of winners and
concentrated sets of losers. Yes, it can
increase inequality because gains from
trade are often disproportionately captured
by people who are better educated
and already doing well economically.
But here's where I challenge them:
Over the past few decades, the most rapidly
globalizing countries have been on
the winning side of the column. In fact,
according to the United Nations Conference
on Trade and Development in its
report "Development and Globalization
Facts and Figures 2016," the proportion
of people living in extreme poverty fell
from around one-third of the world's
population in 1990 to 12 percent in 2015.
More than 1 billion people have been lifted
out of extreme poverty. China alone
has raised 300 million of its citizens
from poverty to the middle class.
Not surprisingly, China and India
were the leading contributors to global
poverty reduction. And that happened
primarily because of globalization, with both countries attracting foreign investment
that has created millions of jobs in
WHAT'S A PROFESSOR TO DO?
By this point in the discussion, my
students are thoroughly confused. "So,
what's the bottom line?" one of them
asks me, a bit plaintively.
It's complicated, I reply. On one hand,
politicians like Sanders and Trump
dangerously oversimplify these complex
issues, either because they don't understand
them or because politics reduces
everything to bumper sticker slogans.
On the other hand (one of my favorite
phrases; that's why God gave economists
an infinite number of hands), just because
Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders
says something doesn't mean it's wrong.
Some working-class Americans have suffered
from free trade, just so that we can
buy cheaper iPhones. But, to go back to
the other hand again, poor families also
have access to cheaper food and clothing.
Most of my students are horrified
to realize that they agree with Donald
Trump on something. Their sympathies
are now with the working class that has
suffered losses from globalization and
voted him into the presidency.
Still, I have found it difficult to have
serious conversations with my students
on these issues, because as debate heats
up, the environment can become toxic,
endangering the art of discourse.
What is a professor to do? While it
can be helpful to insert facts and figures
into the discussion, that's not always a
solution. We live in a time when even
facts have become a matter of opinion.
The better approach is to ask students to
be open to hearing points of view from
all ends of the spectrum. The college
classroom is an ideal place for students
to spend time listening to those with
whom they disagree and learning to
distinguish facts from opinions. At the
end of the day, they will probably still
disagree—but hopefully they will have
listened, and thought, and learned.
Jane Elizabeth Hughes is a professor of
practice at Simmons University School of
Business in Boston, Massachusetts.
This article originally appeared in BizEd's March/April 2019 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].
To read about how an educator at Arizona State University uses an app to teach students to engage in ethical debate, see "Learning to Differ: Teaching Students the Art of Civil Discourse."