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On trade, peace, Ukraine, and why we think so highly of Canada
Americans have generally thought well of Canada -- if not a little avariciously. After all, the Articles of Confederation contained a provision to allow Canada free and unimpeded entry into the United States if our northerly neighbors so chose. That obviously didn't happen...though there are even Canadians and Americans alike who today find thoughts of a merger (partial or complete) to be attractive.
■ But at least as much as our common historical ties and strong cultural relationships would suggest, it is exchange and trade that really keep the two countries so closely bound together. Aside from the relatively trivial differences introduced by the metric/English divide and the floating exchange rate between the greenback and the loonie, there is very little to impede trade back-and-forth between the two countries (as long as protesters aren't standing in the way). And that trade is a much larger part of our economic life than any other day-to-day part of life, at least in America.
■ Our very strong trading relationship with Canada serves to enhance the sense of community between the two countries and solidifies the understanding that we have shared interests. Thus, their example makes it surprising that the United States has not done a better job of approaching international economic relationships as a more significant tool of global public diplomacy.
■ As the world's largest economy, Americans buy a lot of stuff and pay for a lot of services, not all of them created domestically. Even a small share of the giant American domestic market would be a giant boon to most international economies. Why is it, then, that we as American consumers don't have a convenient guide to the best places to spend our money so as to support known American interests in the world?
■ Suppose, for example, that an ordinary American wanted to support the freedom and independence of Ukraine. Very few of us are able to sit at the table where these things are negotiated. But one thing we can do is to spend our money -- but where? Where is it that we could spend our money to offer tacit monetary support for the well-being of a threatened state like Ukraine?
■ It's likely that in a handful of American communities (Pittsburgh, for one), one could find stores prominently featuring Ukranian imports. And perhaps it's possible to do some clever searching within Amazon to find products that are made in Kyiv or Donetsk. But by-and-large, ordinary Americans have no obvious place to go if they wish to do something to support America's geostrategic interests with our own consumer spending.
■ It wouldn't take the efforts of a very large staff to offer some of this information as a public service, but nobody in our Federal government seems to have done it. That seems like a failure of imagination: Americans are willing to spend lots of money in order to show support for causes we consider worthy. We are notoriously generous charitable givers, and we spend liberally on GoFundMe and Kickstarter campaigns. Why not turn to public diplomacy and American consumer spending as a way to find a surrogate method of "kickstarting" campaigns for countries in which we have a vested interest?
■ A trade promotion office, perhaps inside the State or Commerce Departments, might be able to smooth the path to help American buyers know to where we could put our money where our national mouth is. America has historically used trade and economic interaction to support the interests of peace around the world: Our rebuilding of Europe through the Marshall Plan and our heavy investment in Japan during its postwar occupation tend to suggest that we could promote the same interests in peace through prosperity, even when the problems are not overwhelming or urgent.
■ Gently facilitating a pathway to buying things labeled "Made in _____" -- whether Ukraine or Iraq or a refugee camp in Lebanon or Uganda -- could be a meaningful way to help American consumers advance peaceful interests worldwide by boosting fragile economies. Prosperity matters to peace.
■ A benign broker who could offer suggestions and smooth the way could help. Some American consumers might choose to spend their money in these ways as a matter of short term virtue-signaling. No harm done if that's the case. Others, though, might find products or services that they wish to enjoy on an ongoing basis. And that sort of trade could serve to further American interests -- at virtually zero taxpayer expense.