Is Turnabout Fair Play? The Inward FDI Story in the US

Jonathan Crystal’s article “A New Kind of Competition” draws attention to a simple but under-studied reality: the US, like other advanced industrial states, is more than simply a source of foreign direct investment. The sheer preponderance and market power of US MNCs in the modern era may blind observers to the reality that America has emerged not merely as a host for FDI but, in absolute terms, the largest host in the world. While the massive size of the US domestic economy means that debates about “foreign ownership” are nowhere near as strident as they have been elsewhere (Canada in the 1960s and 70s for example) the response of domestic constituents like workers and local producers has been an increasingly important part of the story of MNCs and US power. One of the apparent paradoxes of the increased politicization of inward FDI in the American heartland is the reality that much of it has been stimulated by an essentially political imposition of trade barriers to protect many of the same domestic producers now “threatened” by foreign firms. While Crystal’s major purpose is to explain how domestic interests are translated into policy demands, and the way social demands are shaped by domestic political structures, it might be argued that the US is simply coming to terms with realities long experienced, in typically more extreme forms, by other host societies. Is turnabout fair play?