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Report reveals importance of foreign policy to middle class’ economic standing

January 17, 2019

The state of America’s foreign policy and the livelihoods of its middle-class are inextricably linked, according to a new report from Ohio State’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The report’s authors, using Ohio as a lens for their examination, conduct a thorough quantitative and qualitative analysis on this relationship. They find that the relationship between foreign policy and the middle class is complicated, but that improving outcomes for the middle class will ultimately require a comprehensive foreign policy strategy that is tied to economic development. Notably, unlike the many pieces authored from academics and think-tank researchers on the coasts that focus on “the heartland” or foreign policy more broadly, this report features local perspectives from more than 100 economic development stakeholders across six regions in Ohio. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace plans to release additional state-level case studies throughout 2019.

U.S. Foreign Policy for the Middle Class: Perspectives from Ohio explore changes in the state’s manufacturing sector, the impact these changes had on communities and the middle class, and how government responses such as trade adjustment assistance were generally inadequate. They also examine Ohio’s bifurcated present-day economy, which, like many places across the country, has diversified and restructured in some areas, while other areas continue to struggle. This tension plays out at both the community and individual level. The authors describe the unraveling of a social compact between businesses, labor, and the public sector, and the need for a new compact given the state’s current, more diversified economy. 

The heart of the study presents case studies on six cities: Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Marion, Lima, and Coshocton. Study areas range politically, socially, and economically, and the cases help speak to the trade-offs inherent in foreign policy. For example, Ohio’s economic development practitioners interviewed were overwhelmingly supportive of foreign direct investment, while also cognizant that increased international competition continues to impact the domestic manufacturing sector.

The authors suggest that renegotiating foreign policy will have trade-offs, and that nation needs a comprehensive foreign policy strategy that is tied to economic development. They suggest five questions to ask as part of this strategy:

  • How should America’s economic interests be defined abroad?
  • How can we ensure that this strategy helps the workers and communities struggling to adapt to global changes?
  • What is needed to attract and retain FDI while discouraging harmful competition between cities and states?
  • How can debates around the defense budget portray the local economic development impacts of these federal dollars? and,
  • What should America’s role in global leadership be, and how can the middle class benefit?

In addition to other state-level case studies, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace plans to release a final report in 2020. More information is available here.


Ohiointernational, regions