Global trade emerged with rise of civilizations and the creation of empires. You could argue that trade is an innate behavior of humans. Trade, wars and empires form a complex of human behaviors that created wealth, destruction and death for thousands of years. The modern history of global trade accelerated with European colonization and exploitation of the rest of the world. The push for expanded world trade is often advocated as a benefit for underdeveloped nations. Industrialists claimed that it is better work in a shoe factory for minimum wage and live in poor tenements than it is to continue to live on a poor family farm with your local village culture, language and values intact.
When you understand human nature, you know that humans do best as members of small local groups. Local autonomy is an intrinsic value that is violated by global trade. As citizens of many countries protest against economic conditions and seek more autonomy, politicians refer to protectionism and offer dire predictions of global economic crashes. Enlightened leaders will seek bottom-up solutions by supporting local groups, local initiatives and will only write rules and laws that increases local autonomy of human groups wherever they live.
World trade matured ideologically in the 20th century. An optimistic vision was the global trade would create a unified, productive world with exchange of goods and technologies among all countries. Affluent leaders assumed that the human tragedies of the third world would spontaneously resolve with free trade. New affluence and influence would spread from more technologically advanced countries to the least. This assumption is now known to be fallacious. Cash crops for export obliterate regional autonomy. African countries, for example, still struggle with food shortages and famine, in part because colonial world trade replaced indigenous food crops with monocultures for export. Africans cannot eat coffee and cocoa. The monocultures damaged local food production in many different ways – physical changes in the environment coupled with the loss of skills and motivation required for self-sufficiency.
A world trade organization was created to negotiate trade agreements and to arbitrate disputes among members. A well-publicized series of protests at the WTO meeting in Seattle in November 1999 brought the existence and the potential problems with WTO to the attention of all sentient beings. The most important concern was the WTO had emerged as a top-down method of organizing world trade. While the WTO was still in its infancy, the most unpopular idea was a centralized bureaucracy imposing rules and regulations that interfered with or contradicted local policies and laws.
There is a deep instinct for local autonomy and a corresponding suspicion of alien control. All attempts to build large systems with top-down policies have failed. While the WTO looked like the best efforts of free-market capitalists, the tendency for powerful elites to affiliate and impose their will is as deeply embedded in humans as is the resistance to outside control. The WTO Seattle negotiations failed because of substantial differences in the perceptions, needs and limitations of member nations more than the protests. Both disturbances will continue to dominate world trade negotiations.
Global trade has progressed to a world of ships, airplanes, treaties, intermeshed stock markets and currency trading. Trade talks are commonplace and bring indulged politicians from many countries to the bargaining table. They believe that global trade is a good feature of human existence and should be advanced, despite the resistance of their citizens and loss of autonomy. US president Obama warned against "a crude sort of nationalism’ taking root." He, like many other smart and responsible humans, fails to understand human nature. The tendency to prefer small groups and to protect boundaries that separate our group from others is an innate feature of humans and is not going to disappear. Obama pursed the wrong argument, stating: “We are going to have to guard against a rise in a crude sort of nationalism, or ethnic identity or tribalism that is built around an us and a them, and I will never apologize for saying that the future of humanity and the future of the world is doing to be defined by what we have in common, as opposed to those things that separate us and ultimately lead us into conflict.” The beginning of his big mistake is the suggestion that ethnic identity and tribalism are recent constructs, add-ons that can be changed. Ethnic identity and tribalism is innate and creates societies rather than the society creates ethnic identity and tribalism. Idealists have proposed a world government that could unite nations and develop worldwide solutions for our most compelling problems. The United Nations is the best organization to date with many problem-solving groups but the UN demonstrates the national, ethnic, religious, economic identities of the participates that resist world government.
Enlightened leaders will seek bottom-up solutions by supporting local groups, local initiatives and will only write rules and laws that increase local autonomy of human groups wherever they live. The authentic basis of trade is surplus. Each group grows its own food and makes the goods they need; when there is a surplus, the extra food and goods are traded. When cash crops and trade goods dominate a group's activities and interests, they lose their sense of purpose, cohesion and sooner or later become dysfunctional and fail. Imported industries distort local economies. An emerging hybrid economics will have to find a new balance point between local need, the human preference for proximate communities and local autonomy.
For many years, insightful people have described the harm done to poor people in third world countries by inappropriate technology, movies, television programming and magazines arriving from affluent western countries. Media thrive by printing articles about rich and famous people, exotic food, luxury vacations, expensive homes, flashy cars and numerous other goodies that most citizens, even in affluent countries cannot afford. Extravagant desires and inevitable disappointment are constant features of modern life.