Populism Watch: Combatting Protectionist Policies with a Positive Plan for Economic Progress

At the G7 Summit last week, Donald Trump’s fixation on tariffs, as well as his withdrawal of support for a Group of Seven communique, made waves. The President’s protectionist agenda could do serious and lasting damage to the U.S. economy, American workers, and the international relationships we’ve spent decades building. In response, pragmatic progressives should champion a genuine alternative economic platform focused on growth, expanded opportunity, and strengthening U.S. strategic alliances.

A 2016 report by the Progressive Policy Institute offers an approach to boosting the U.S. economy and middle class prosperity without threatening relations with key allies. The report, Unleashing Innovation and Growth: A Progressive Alternative to Populism, edited by PPI President Will Marshall, puts forth an optimistic plan to strengthen America’s economic and fiscal security–while improving vital trade and security ties with America’s G7 partners. The report speaks specifically against the kinds of protectionist policies Trump has instigated, instead encouraging the democratization of trade, the free flow of data across global borders, and the support for innovative trade agreements, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The report begins with a review of the specific economic challenges faced by the United States, including slow growth since 2000, stagnating wages and living standards, and a shrinkage of the middle class. These problems cannot be fixed by trade wars and isolationism, but rather, as the report explains, require a series of positive changes in American economic and regulatory policies.

The report proposes spreading innovation across the economy through the adoption of a new ‘Innovation Platform’ aimed at stimulating public and private investment in new ideas and enterprises. It also urges improving the regulatory climate impeding greater innovation in non-digitized industries and investment in small and new businesses. The report also proposes creating business incentives to offer more flexible work, including paid leave and overtime, for gig-economy workers. The plan also includes ways to increase renewable energy creation, modernize public works, improve K-12 education, and narrow the wealth inequality gap with universal pensions.

PPI’s blueprint underlines the issues that can arise from embracing populist policies, such as mistrust in democratic institutions and threats to economic and national security. The report is a reminder that smarter, optimistic policy alternatives to populism and nationalism can benefit all Americans, as well as our allies in the G7.

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