Three Trade Ideas

The Donald, Kevin Williamson, and Jonah Goldberg have put forth take ideas and actions recently.  It shows the difficulties of politics.  In politics we need to make priorities and often end up supporting the least worst solution, like The Donald.  Kevin and MWG are for unilateral tariff elimination.  We agree with Kevin that:

Which is why my preferred Plan B — unilateral free trade — is, politically speaking, a DOA proposition. I simply reject the notion that free people should have to ask the permission of, well, anybody before they can buy ordinary goods from whomever they like, including producers in China, India, Poland — or on Mars.

Well, we think of it more as tax policy than human rights but we are still on the same page.  Jonah is close to that and The Donald is very far away from us.  Let’s start with The Donald.  He recently gave a speech in Davos where the WSJ reported:

[The Donald] also echoed previous calls for “fair trade,” saying the U.S. would “no longer turn a blind eye to unfair economic practices.”

“We cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others,” [The Donald] warned.
[snip]

The [Donald’s] administration drew criticism from abroad this week for its announcement Monday that it would impose steep tariffs aimed at protecting U.S. makers of solar panels and washing machines.

All three paragraphs represent foolishness of the first order.  Theresa May, in the same article, speaks for us when she says:

Free trade and the global rules-based system had together “delivered the greatest advances in prosperity we have ever known.”

The Donald had an excellent year in 2017.  This is a rocky start for 2018.

Sidebar One:A president does not and should not have control of the country such that, good or bad, it is all on him.  Events were such that The Donald had a banner year in 2017.  It was not all him.  End Sidebar One.

Jonah takes, and has always taken, our side in the trade issues:

[The Donald’s] administration is now moving to put some teeth on its promise to punish “unfair” trade from China and other countries. This week it imposed punitive tariffs on Chinese and South Korean manufacturers of washing machines and solar panels. The move is ill advised on its own, but you can be sure this is just the beginning of renewed debate over the benefits of free trade, with any number of once-passionate opponents of the government’s “picking winners and losers” rushing to defend the sagacity of “America first” economics.

Jonah is getting to be like Conrad Black.  Conrad can’t write an article without puffing up at least one of Nixon or FDR.  Jonah just has to fly his Never Trump flag but he does get to a good point in his conclusion:

Every form of statism — from absolute monarchy to socialism to fascism — involves the state forming an alliance with some faction or another and giving it preferential treatment. Protectionism is simply statism applied to trade.

Sidebar Two: Unlike Jonah, we are not convinced that folks have a hard time distinguishing between pro-business and pro-market.  He says: “But it is a rare corporate titan who favors a free market if doing so is bad for his or her bottom line.”  It is much more general than that as his quotes from Adam Smith indicate.  Neither businessmen nor workers want a free market.  Only consumers do.  End Sidebar Two

Jonah’s conclusion of protectionism as statism leads to Kevin’s idea that the left, where the statists dwell, might be the opportunity for free trade.

Capitalism isn’t what it used to be [the kinds of businesses].  And neither is free trade. Once largely an Anglo-American project, free trade today is a European project, a Canadian project, an Asian project, and a pan-Pacific and trans-Atlantic project, too. It is, properly understood, a global humanitarian project. For the moment, the leaders of that project are people such as Trudeau, Merkel, and Shinzo Abe. And Michelle Bachelet, too: The remarkable fact is that Chile’s socialist president is more pro-trade than is the nominally Republican president of the United States of America.

There is a big problem with Kevin’s analysis.  There is also a minor point in ignoring the UK and Theresa’s quote above.  His major example is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Here is an an example of the big problem:

So far, the Democratic party has largely resisted efforts to purge members who supported TPP, fast-track negotiating authority for the president, and other pro-trade measures.

The problem is that Kevin opposed TPP as a free trader.  None of us, Jonah, Kevin, or MWG, were enamored with TPP and the thousands of pages it entails.

The problem is that our first preference is unilateral free trade.  Our second preference is one sentence free trade on a bilateral basis.  We are not interested in imposing thousands of pages interpreted by hoards of bureaucrats on ourselves or other countries.  The statists who Kevin hopes to work with are interested in such agreements.  We tend to favor negotiation but perhaps we need to move to free trade absolutism.  It is always the problem in politics.  Sometimes negotiation takes you so far from your goals that you lose more that you gain.

 

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