Presidential Debate 2012: Romney Swiss Bank Accounts Will Come Up, But Should Be Irrelevant

Romney’s Swiss and Cayman bank accounts have been a recurring issue this election and will probably come up again during Monday's debate. Are they un-American or illegal — or both? Meanwhile, the Congress has been concerned about Chinese-made U.S. Olympic uniforms, which were declared definitively un-American. Ironically, worrying about Swiss bank accounts and Chinese-manufactured American products actually sets America back.

For live coverage of the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, including real-time analysis and coverage, see here.

I am not a hyperglobalizer. I do not believe that the 193 member states of the United Nations will shortly subsume into the First Galactic — er — Planetary Empire. Nor am I a globalization skeptic. I do not believe that America will be unaffected by a collapse of the Euro or tumult in China. But I do believe history is a story of global interactions from the Silk Road to the Columbian Exchange. And I believe that the Allied victory in World War II, the Internet, and many other factors in recent years have accelerated and deepened global interactions.

Broken English and U.S. dollars are the linguas franca. There is a positive correlation between English proficiency and net exports after all. But it seems Americans, mostly fluent English speakers who earn U.S. dollars, are worried about losing out in an increasingly global economy.

The South Park send-up of unemployed blue-collar workers shouting, “They took our jobs!” comes to mind. Are American banks — those same banks taxpayers paid to keep afloat in 2009 — too good for Mr. Romney? Why should our Olympic uniforms be manufactured in China when there are respectable American manufacturers who need business?

This boils down to who we consider “us” and “them.” For many people, not just Americans, fellow citizens deserve preferential treatment to foreigners. I will not attempt to argue that we shouldn’t treat anyone else as the "other," no matter where they live. I am arguing, however, that letting the Swiss handle our money and the Chinese make our Olympic uniforms frees Americans to do other things, and fighting such phenomena ultimately hurts us.

“But 8.2% of Americans are unemployed, and even more are underemployed!” Yes, and any job is better than no job. But an American job that pays more for the same product or service than a foreign one will not be a job for long. And billionaire philanthropists like Buffet and Gates may publicly invest in America, but most everyone else with money will try to keep as much of it as possible — regardless of borders.

These are good things. There may be limited means in the global economy, but there are unlimited wants. Thirty years ago, who wanted a cell phone? Five years ago, who wanted a tablet? There will always be new work to do. The only question is which people in which countries will do which jobs.

Manfred Steger, a prolific author and professor of globalization at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, explains in his Very Short Introduction to Globalization that despite the strong globalizing trend, “nation-states have retained control over education, infrastructure, and, most importantly, population movements.”

These areas should be America’s chief focus. Our infrastructure used to be the best in the world, and the American Society of Civil Engineers now grades it a D, saying it requires $2.2 trillion to update. Waiting for Superman showed us the deplorable state of our nation’s public education, that very system that is meant to equip our citizens to compete in a global economy.

Instead of teaching our children 21st-century skills and ensuring their transportation to their jobs is smooth, we, a nation of immigrants, turn back millions of people a year and outlaw jobs from leaving our shores. Holing up in our corner of the continent is not a solution. It’s a stop-gap that simply delays when we must address the issues of education, infrastructure, and immigration to continue to enjoy our relative quality of life.

And ultimately, this needn’t be our goal. Absolute quality of life continues to increase globally and will do so here, too. So even if we become relatively poorer than other countries, billions of people will still be lifted out of poverty. But for now, we speak English and have dollars. That probably won’t change anytime soon.

For live coverage of the presidential foreign policy debate on Monday, including real-time analysis and coverage, see here.