International trade plays a massive and growing role in the U.S. economy. For the U.S. economy as a whole, exports and imports combined are equivalent to around 27 percent of GDP, up from around 17 percent 30 years ago.
For U.S. freight railroads, international trade plays an even greater role: at least 42% of the carloads and intermodal units railroads carry, and more than 35% of rail revenue, are directly associated with international trade. (If freight indirectly associated with trade were included, the figures for railroads would be even higher.)
To be sure, globalization has harmed some U.S. workers, and policymakers should work to ameliorate that harm. But turning our backs on international trade would do far more harm than good. It would significantly worsen our nation’s economy, our standard of living, and our quality of life, with the lowest income Americans particularly hard hit. Policymakers should not deprive Americans of the tremendous advantages brought about by engaging fully in the global economy.