Lost Decade

The United States lost a decade said Edward Alden during the Fireside Forum on Foreign Policy. The economy slumped, jobs went overseas and many companies broke down during the last ten years.

At the forum on Feb. 28, the national speaker, Alden, discussed the pros and cons of free trade between countries in the global market. Alden wrote for the Financial Times, sat on the Federal Council on Foreign Relations and was a former Washington bureau chief.

The event included a local representative who took the national issues involved with free trade and applied them to a Wisconsin context. The local correspondent was Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the non-profit Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, an advocate for workers’ rights and promoter of unionization in Wisconsin.

Alden started out his address by explaining that supporters of free trade believe a global market leads to an advanced division of labor, lower costs and higher wages. On the other hand, critics argue countries with weaker economies loose because there is a “race to the bottom for lowest labor costs, low environmental concern and job loss in the United States,” Alden said.

“The last decade has been really bad for U.S. workers,” Alden said. He continued, “Are we going to have a lost decade like Japan did? Sorry, but the U.S. has had it. We have lost exactly a decade.”

Neuenfeldt took Alden’s central theme and made it local. “Foreclosures, bankruptcies and job losses are up. What is hard to understand here,” he asked. “We have to change the way we do things. We cannot continue to have trade deficits or we will go broke,” he said.

Alden said during the last ten years people who earned only a high school diploma have lost 10 percent of the average wage they used to receive. College graduates are not immune to the recession and have lost 5 percent of the average wage. According to Alden the current question is will the United States have another lost decade.

Neuenfeldt offered some possible solutions to Wisconsin’s economic struggles. He said, “We need worker education and training.” He then added, “The playing field is unfair, and we need to level it.”

Alden gave similar theories to how the nation can come out of the slump. Education improves wages and job growth. Another crucial policy to enact is to stop the unfair trade in foreign countries. Likewise, America needs to play up competition and nationally invest he added.

According to Alden, at the end of the 1990s, the United States stopped attracting foreign investment. The current market for international corporate support is still low. Marry Martinez, a retired social worker for MPS, asked: “Why do we need investments from other country’s companies? Why don’t our own companies invest in us?”

The audience applauded for this question before Alden cut in. He explained corporations do not think of themselves as American, rather as global. However, they do not invest in the U.S. because companies do not feel they need to. “Their responsibility is to the shareholders,” Alden said as the audience booed and sighed. “Corporate tax rates have consistently been high and regulations are strict and heavy,” he added.

The event was part of an installment meant to educate citizens before the upcoming elections. The website also states the Fireside Forum on Foreign Policy was held by “The University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee Institute of World Affairs (IWA) and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.