Thursday, June 11, 2015

Buchanan’s Anti-Free Trade Tirade Under Cover of TPP ‘Fast Track’ Debate

President Obama is urging Congress to give him so-called fast track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Trade Agreement, which would liberalize trade among twelve Pacific Rim nations, including the United States. Obama has made passage of this treaty a major goal of the remaining years of his presidency.

Fast track authority means Congress would only be able to approve or disapprove of whatever Obama negotiates. Congress would not be able to amend or filibuster the pact in any way. Fast track has been in effect on and off for about 40 years.

Fast track authority is controversial, and there is a legitimate debate raging over the TPP treaty (click here and here). But more fundamental is the underlying issue of free international trade. The issue has split American politics, but not along party lines. Obama, some Democrats, and most, but not all, Republicans support it. Opponents include far Leftists like Senator Elizabeth Warren, and some prominent voices from what today passes for the Right.

I have no opinion on fast track one way or the other. But I do have an opinion on trade. It should be free. So I absolutely despise the position of one prominent “Rightist,” Patrick J. Buchanan.

Buchanan blasts his fellow Republicans in his anti-trade tirade, Obama's Republican Collaborators. In his 4/21/15 column, he begins by accusing Congressional Republicans of “capitulating” to “His Majesty” the Imperial President Obama. Why? Because he assumes most Republicans support giving Obama fast track trade authority.  

The merits of fast track trade authority are debatable. And frankly, I don’t really trust Obama to negotiate a truly free trade agreement. He will mix in a focus on promoting “strong environmental protection” and so-called “fundamental labor rights.” So I have strong reservations about Congress giving up the power to amend Obama’s pact, and Buchanan may be right that Congress must retain its authority to make changes to the TPP. On the other hand, without fast track, the treaty submitted by the president could, and probably will, descend into a deal-killing political quagmire. Just the possibility of that could cost the president credibility in the negotiations, possibly preventing any trade agreement. Opponents claim fast track authority is unconstitutional based on separation of powers. But I think opposition to fast track is tied more to an anti-free trade agenda than anything else.

The debate over fast trak aside, Buchanan’s anti-free trade ideology is not debatable: It is terrible, and on that I do not agree with him whatsoever. Most of his column is dedicated to advancing a virulently anti-trade case against free trade agreements as such. He lists seven prior free trade agreement that he blames for economic devastation visited on America. His trade worldview is xenophobic, economically nationalistic, and shot through with faulty economics and non sequiturs. Here is a sampling:

Why the capitulation [of Congressional Republicans to Obama]?

First, the editorial pages of papers like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post that truckle to the transnational corporations that provide the advertising revenue stream keeping them alive.

Second, Obama is relying on Congressional Republicans who, for all their bravado about defying his usurpations, know on which side their bread is buttered. It's the Wall Street-K Street side.

Fast track is the GOP payoff to its bundlers and big donors.


What the nation needs is not only a rejection of fast track, but also a trade policy that puts country before corporate profit, workers before Wall Street, and America first.

Get the picture? Pure protectionism, rooted in special interest pandering, and clothed in collectivism. “America” does not include people running America’s businesses, working in the investment industry, or the editorial offices of media outlets who favor free trade. “America” is whoever Buchanan says it is, with “workers” serving as populist window dressing. Everyone else, including consumers, are excommunicated from Buchanan’s collective, “America.”

In Buchanan’s biased view, America’s economic problems—real (stagnant incomes, slow growth) or imagined (trade deficits, income inequality, outsourcing)—are all the fault of Americans voluntarily trading with Asians. Insane domestic government policies have nothing to do with it. ObamaCare? Dodd-Frank? Sarbanes-Oxley? Federal deficits? The exploding growth of the regulatory welfare state over the past 15 years? America’s worst-in-the-industrialized-world corporate income tax? The government’s easy money, “affordable housing” crusade and the Great Recession those policies caused? Apparently, those and myriad other bad home-grown policies have nothing to do with our economic problems. It’s all the fault of trade between Americans and non-Americans.

I think NOT. Trade, whether it takes place within a town, across state borders, or across national boundaries, is inherently win-win between the individuals doing the trading. The idea that an American trading with a Chinese hurts America economically is absurd. How can a win for an individual American be bad for America? Just who is "America," anyway?

Worse still, Buchanan’s nationalistic policies are contrary to every fundamental principle of America. The underlying premise is collectivism, which holds that the group—in Buchanan’s case the “nation”—takes moral precedence over the individual. In Buchanan’s worldview, individual Americans don’t have the right to pursue their own happiness, if their pursuit involves trading freely with people living beyond our borders. “America”—i.e., the state—comes “first.” Actual Americans, apparently, come second. So much for the Declaration of Independence.

Aside from special circumstances—national security concerns, health risks, etc.—the right of individuals to trade freely with individuals from other countries is an inalienable right that governments should protect. The principle of free trade is quintessentially American and essential to liberty and peaceful coexistence. Granted, free trade agreements are complex. But in principle, the right policy for America to pursue is to expand free trade as much as possible.

Buchanan positions himself as “FROM THE RIGHT.” But that’s a hollow label. His nationalistic trade-killing policies are statist and collectivist. His call for “a trade policy that puts country before corporate profit, workers before Wall Street, and America first” and his class warfare nod to “income inequality” are straight out of the Left’s collectivist playbook. He’d make a great running mate for Elizabeth Warren.

Related Reading:

New Jersey's Stupid, Immoral 'Buy America' Bill


Mike Kevitt said...

Free trade agreements are complex? Maybe so. But what, briefly, are the complexities? (I don't need a doctoral dissertation on the subject.) Agreements between virtually free countries would be relatively simple. The more statism is involved, on one side or the other or both, the more 'complex' 'free trade' becomes.

Yes. I can figure it out for myself. But if anybody who already has a line (of knowledge) about it will help me get going on it, it would save me time and effort. Anyway, I'll start digging my own ground work. Whenever, or if, help comes, it'll still save me time and effort.

Michael A. LaFerrara said...

Trade agreements are complex because of the amount of statism that must be unwound, as you said. Also the number of countries involved (12) makes the TPP especially difficult.

The final trade pact Obama submits will not result in unfettered free trade. These pacts never do. If it results in freer trade, on balance, that will be a step in the right direction, and be worth supporting. My final opinion on the matter will depend on the analysis of more knowledgable people whom I trust, such as Steve Forbes.