A specter is haunting the globe—a specter of neo-nationalism and protectionism. But not all the global powers are united in an alliance to exorcise this specter, because its lead conjuror is the U.S.—the largest economy in the world. U.S. protectionism was presaged by an ironic juxtaposition at the World Economic Forum in January 2017, when China's President Xi Jinping championed the cause of a liberal economic order in contrast to President Trump's America First stance. Why has the world moved toward protectionism, and what is its impact on businesses and consumers? And how damaging is this phenomenon to our prosperity? This column considers what free trade has meant, and the impact of its demise.
This topic is particularly important to people involved in computing in an increasingly digital world. The history of free trade centers around non-digital goods and services, given the relatively late arrival of digital and digitally traded goods and services. That history helps explain the issue and draw implications for the digital world.