'Social Correctness' Is the New Protectionism


While American social trends generally wend their way across the Atlantic, the infamous doctrine of "political correctness" failed miserably in penetrating European common sense barriers. Europeans, however, appear to have found a small but promising market in Washington for a heartier, common sense–resistant Brussels variant: "social correctness."

European politicians and Brussels bureaucrats form the core of an increasingly vocal vanguard of the socially correct. Their principal tenet is that it is no longer acceptable to carry on liberal trade relations with any country failing to provide its workers with "adequate social protection." Such countries are said to be engaged in the practice of "social dumping," as their lower labor costs enable them to undercut countries in economic competition that do provide proper social protection.

While stated as a matter of high principle, this doctrine actually represents little more than an attempt to justify protectionism under the guise of concern for worker rights. Social dumping exists in the eye of the higher–cost beholder: the charge is leveled exclusively at countries that succeed in attracting jobs and investment on the basis of having an advantage in unit labor costs. In order to raise their competitors’ production costs, the socially correct seek to impose their system of labor relations, workplace regulations, employment and remuneration laws, and social security provisions, all the while maintaining that they do so in the interest of universal workers’ rights.


The attempt to export social policy to neutralize a competitor advantage is not new. In 1890 Kaiser Wilhelm II, intent on maintaining Germany’s competitive position while addressing domestic demands for working–time restrictions, proposed an international agreement on a maximum eight–hour workday. While Britain had at that time rejected the idea of putting its industrial laws "at the discretion of a foreign power," one hundred years later, its industrial sovereignty sufficiently eroded, it is forced to abide by working–time directives from Brussels.

The French tried the same ruse in the negotiations leading to

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