The staggering death toll of the coronavirus pandemic and the deep dysfunction it has exposed will forever alter domestic order in the U.S. But lost in the flood of daily domestic tragedies is a shift that may prove as consequential as the pandemic itself: the death of the international political order commonly known as “globalization.”
Across the world, the pandemic has broken supply chains and strained old trade partnerships. The great economic alliance at the center of globalization ― the relationship between the United States ― the world’s great consumer powerhouse ― and China ― the world’s great manufacturing center ― is crumbling. It is far too early to foresee exactly how these two superpowers will reach new terms of coexistence, but whatever the ultimate result, the rest of the world is already preparing for a new order.
The political struggle to shape what comes next has already begun on Capitol Hill. A quiet battle currently being waged among Republicans reveals much of what is broken in the current international economic system, and helps illuminate what might replace it.
Last month, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced the Slave-Free Business Certification Act, a short bill that would require American corporations to investigate their supply chains for slave labor, publicly report their findings, detail any corrective measures being taken, and make the CEO of the company personally certify all of it. Nearly every item Americans purchase, after all, is the product of international inputs ― chemicals and raw materials from one part of the world, factories and works in another, and shipping routes that criss-cross oceans and borders before arriving on the shelves of American retailers.
Much of this complexity results from a simple quest for cheap labor. Lower wages for workers bring higher profits for shareholders. And while it would be unconscionable for American executives to use forced labor within American borders, most...