I’m interested in the phrase ‘economic patriotism,’ which Zephyr Teachout of New York has made central to her congressional campaign. Ideologically, its appearance is significant as a harbinger of the ‘thought revolution‘ destined to shake up both political parties. As a phrase linking domestic and green production with political empowerment and civic responsibility, ‘economic patriotism’ is smart and historically resonant. Without pointing fingers, it suggests that economic actors could be encouraged to behave in ways that will promote the good of the country, thus harkening back to a traditional concept of ‘political economy.’
Anti-globalism and a demand for policies that protect citizens’ prosperity have defined the 2016 election cycle. The popularity of these ideas, which both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have variously articulated, signals Americans’ weariness with the pro-corporate globalism central to the political establishment (and much of the intellectual establishment, too). Popular anxieties about immigration, out-sourcing, and unfair trade deals all spring from uncertainty as to what will prevent many forms of work from disappearing. Experts tell Americans that globalism is good, but it’s hard to deny that it undermines national and personal autonomy. Which lessens American power and independence, right?
Despite eliciting the scorn of experts who point to statistics suggesting otherwise, such ideas, mocked as parochial or alarmingly nationalistic, formerly propelled the US economy to might. The ideal economy is one that promotes an egalitarian prosperity: this notion has been central to American political development, accounting for such diverse initiatives as protectionism, abolitionism, and the massive sale of public land into private hands, which gave millions of Americans a foothold in the nineteenth century. A desire to ensure that Americans have the autonomy and cultivation needed to be active and informed citizens of the republic has accounted for many features of the US economy. It bears considering what ‘economic patriotism’ should look like now.