Free Trade

FREE TRADE….Rep. George Miller (D–Ca) admitted to the New York Times recently that “Trade may not be the reason, or the number one reason, [people are] losing their jobs, but they think it is.” Dan Drezner comments:

Kudos to Miller for at least being honest that much of the Democrats ire is wildly misplaced.

The Democrats are right to focus on stagnant wages and health care concerns — those are their bread-and-butter issues. Conjuring up a trade bogeyman as the primary source of all of this…. well, let’s just say it fuels Dani Ridrik’s barbarians quite nicely.

Well, OK. I’m basically a free trader myself. But I have a few questions:

  • Thanks to many decades worth of trade agreements, trade is pretty darn free already. So while trade agreements may not be huge sources of job loss, signing additional trade agreements to get that last 10% of free trade isn’t a likely source of huge economic gains either, is it? It seems as though both sides may be making mountains out of molehills here.

  • How come free traders always yell and scream about, say, labor clauses or environmental requirements being inserted into trade agreements, but don’t seem able to muster up the same passion when it comes to special treatment for favored industries? Seems to me that if it’s a choice between forcing a trade partner to institute some kind of minimal child labor protection and forcing a trade partner to accept oppressive IP regulations favored by the U.S. content industry, the labor regulations are actually more justified and produce less economic distortion. Dan?

  • If Dems should be concerned about stagnant wages but shouldn’t be demagoging it with trade, what should they be doing? That is, what should they be doing that conservatives wouldn’t assault like mad dogs until the last breath was torn kicking and screaming from their bodies? Stronger unions? Higher minimum wage? Expanded EITC? More progressive taxation? Vastly increased assistance to help people displaced by trade agreements? Throw me a bone here. Anything?

Trade agreements aren’t really my first choice of issue when it comes to economic populism, but unfortunately Lou Dobbs doesn’t seem to be interested in devoting a hundred hours of airtime a year to reviving private sector unions in the United States. But if there are any conservatives out there willing to help steer the conversation in that direction, I’m all ears.