Cox’s Carving Knife of Free Trade

In his speech, titled “Papa’s Electric Carving Knife: Slicing the Benefits of Free Trade with a GE Appliance,” Ottaway Visiting Professor Rob Cox related globalized trade to a simple, household appliance once owned by his grandfather. 

The event, held on April 4, was the last scheduled campus event to be hosted by the James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professorship in Journalism for its Spring ‘17 program. 

“Rob has been wonderful. The program we’ve been able to do around him has been able to make full use of him,” said Lisa Phillips, assistant journalism professor and coordinator for the professorship. “This has been through his Newtown experience and experience with Reuters Breakingviews.”

Prefacing the event, Cox expressed his gratitude to the Digital Media & Journalism department, the Ottaway program and his students. He said that the Ottaway program has afforded him a way to look at his career retrospectively.

“Teaching this class gave me an opportunity to not just stop and analyze what I’ve learned over 25 years, it allowed me to really detach myself from the day to day,” Cox said. “To impart some flavor of my skills that they might use in their careers in the media industry feels like an important challenge.”

Cox injected these “flavors” into his speech on globalization. His class has focused on the day to day of economics, but through his speech he was able to indulge the audience in more background on economic history.

By using his grandfather’s carving knife as a lens, Cox was able to discuss the nuances of free trade in the era of an administration built on protectionism.

This very same protectionism, according to Cox, has never truly benefitted those who believe it would. By comparing the prices of simple home goods and appliances, Cox showed that globalization has led to a decreased cost of goods when prices are adjusted for inflation. 

“Telling Americans that the quid pro quo for bringing jobs back home would be a seven fold increase in the price of goods makes the whole soundbite a lot less appealing,” Cox said. 

Though a few hundred dollars in savings may not seem like a justification for the loss of American jobs, the detriments of protectionist policies have been proven in multiple cases throughout history.

These policies were prevalent before the economic collapse that caused the Great Depression. Embracing free trade is largely beneficial to a global economy. By limiting economic policies within the borders of any country, economic growth and intellectual discourse is stifled.

“Free trade is a proxy for free markets and the uninterrupted flow of ideas and progress across border,” Cox said. “Trade has helped reduce, by half, the global population living in extreme poverty.”

When asked if he knew the solutions, Cox simply emphasized the nuances of economic globalization. He stated that policies have to be greatly considered and prioritized in a radicalized and ever-changing political and economic landscape.

 “I don’t know what the policy prescriptions are,” Cox said. “But we need to start thinking about that rather than walking around and taking a victory lap on the factory floor.”