Priorities are critical.  As department chair, we have lots of nodding agreements supporting this, that, and the other thing.  Chairs have a long list of goals but because of the regular demands of the office like budgeting, scheduling, and students and the difficulty of creating coalitions only a few priorities ever get addressed.

Sidebar One: We recollect it was Woodrow Wilson used his experience to compare politicians to college faculty and administrators.  We found the quote here: “As compared to the college politician, the real article seems like an amateur.”  We don’t have Woodrow’s experience but tend to agree.  End Sidebar One.

The same is true of formal politics at every level, especially the national level.  The recent State of the Union speech was criticized because it, like most of it predecessors, was a long laundry list without priorities.

Sidebar Two: Well, it seemed to us that immigration was the priority.  We think that one priority, especially immigration, is OK. End Sidebar Two.

We are interested in what to push.  We had mused about the possibility really free trade rather than the mixed results of agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Michael Brendan Dougherty’ polemic against free trade helps us see the difficulty of such progress. To his credit he recognizes that his position on taxing assets (nonproductive property) puts off folks but then he tries to lump the free traders with him.

First, he tries to link open borders with free trade:

We should not fool ourselves that somehow some authority out there called “the market” wants no limits on the supply of labor and then open our borders in response. Doing so against the consent of the people would jeopardize the democratic character of our society and doom what’s left of the egalitarian ethic that makes democracy possible.

The Venn Diagrams of folks for free trade and open boarders do overlap, especially on the WSJ editorial page, but they are two different things.  We are in the part that doesn’t overlap.

Next, he tries this:

Governments have a right and sometimes a duty to inspect what comes into their ports, not only for security reasons but to enforce the rules of the market that entrepreneurs depend on.

This is certainly a duty and great opportunities for cronyism and graft.  A small example of cronyism is when Irish butter was banned in Wisconsin.  It is part of the argument for thousand-page agreements. The US would like other countries to limit non-tariff issues to security and market concerns.  The problem is the agreements expand into questionable areas.

[Ron] Paul [as an example of a doctrinaire libertarian] thinks that if Japan’s government subsidizes the manufacture of a car to the tune of $4,000, then American consumers should just rake in the free gift from Japanese taxpayers. I do not. I think mercantilists can erode the support for worthwhile trading arrangements in both countries at once. I similarly fear it will be deleterious to a liberal system if these nations succeed in creating monopoly pricing power for their firms.

We support the American consumers as Paul does.  Part of the reason is the accounting problem of what is a subsidy?  Another part is the difficulty of creating monopoly pricing power.

Lastly, Michael gets into a double dose of security.  First, we need military stuff and we can’t depend on other counties for it and second, the US Navy is critical to maintaining the freedom to trade.  The first part seems like a good argument to support fracking but at least some military stuff will need to be imported.  From whom seems to be the interesting question. We agree on the importance of the US Navy but fail to see any connections with tariff policy.

If conservatives are this far apart on priorities it is easy to see why political progress is hard.  It is not clear what priorities Michael has other than never Trump although he seems to be on the social and international beat.   He tried humor, we think, in Anthony Kennedy Can’t Be Allowed To Die.  Arguments matter but it will be hard to support any of Michael’s political priorities ahead of ours.  Baseball is another matter entirely.



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