Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

All Politics is Global

James Skillen


September 1, 2006

The familiar adage says that all politics is local. But is that true any longer?

It is certainly true that most American elections are for local offices—mayor, city council, school board, county council, state legislature, and governor. In fact, even with respect to national politics, all elections except for the president are for local rather than nationwide candidates, because no senator or representative is elected by all Americans to represent a national constituency.

It is also true that local issues are often of greatest concern to voters—violence or sagging performance in the schools, potholed roads, property tax increases, and availability of jobs. This is why members of Congress feel pressure to bring home the pork to their state or congressional district to show that they are doing something to benefit the locals.

Yet stop for a moment and look more closely at almost any local issue. Under and around it surge the dynamic movements of a shrinking globe.

Take jobs, for example. It used to be the case that labor stayed put and only money and goods were mobile. But today, labor itself is increasingly mobile and almost every employer is tied ever more tightly to international labor dynamics—whether related to auto production or online shopping services. When our used paper and plastics are shipped to China for reprocessing, it means Chinese workers not American workers do that work. Seafood served in your local restaurant may have been harvested by Norwegian or Japanese fishermen, not by locals in a nearby river, lake, or ocean. Fresh cut flowers on your dinner table were probably shipped in from Holland that morning, not grown by a local greenhouse florist. Your job as a salesperson, waitress, or accountant depends far more than you may realize on work done or not done by people in other parts of the world.

These dynamic changes may help produce new jobs in your area, but whether your town gains or loses job opportunities depends more and more on the relative success or failure of the president and Congress to negotiate trade deals and to establish fair rules for the global marketplace. And what, after all, is the big immigration debate all about if not the international movement of workers?

Or take energy and the environment. Can you expect your mayor and town council to do anything on their own about the price of gasoline or electricity where you live? Increased pollution in Oregon and Washington is blowing in from the discharges of Chinese factories and cars. Some of the pollution in eastern Canada originates in local factories in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Even the president and Congress are losing control over energy availability and pollution unless they can help to engineer a major international shift to renewable energy soon.

We haven't even mentioned the local impact of the ever-increasing billions of federal dollars spent on our military throughout the world, or the global and local impact of American agricultural subsidies, or global warming, or the growing American trade deficit, or the threat of pandemic diseases.

The point is this: as you go to the polls in November, ask how well the candidates you face are prepared to act with some understanding of the wider world. In particular, ask whether candidates for Congress are alert to, and educated about, the global dynamics that increasingly shape American lives. We can no longer afford to elect representatives who are international amateurs, ignorant of the global actors who influence and fund many of the lobbyists who influence our representatives. We can no longer afford to put people into office who are ignorant of the cultures and societies where they may decide to deploy our military. And if all of this is true with regard to Congress and the president, it is also increasingly true about mayors, city and county council members, governors, and state legislators.

—James Skillen, President
    Center for Public Justice



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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”