Don’t trust politicians over 70 when it comes to trade
Editorial comment on the TPP
GNAT TV News Project
It’s always fascinating when the left and right wings of the political spectrum move so far away from the mainstream center in opposite directions that they meet up.
Something like that seems to be happening with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a sweeping trade agreement all but dead in the wake of Donald Trump’s recent election to the presidency (two million “illegal” votes notwithstanding). While it’s hard to pigeonhole Mr. Trump, whose positions on policy issues seem to be in a constant state of flux, it seems reasonable to slot him in somewhere on the conservative side of the spectrum at least when it comes to economics. Most would agree he walks and talks like a capitalist, more or less a free-market, private sector knows best kind of guy, and when applied pragmatically, this is a philosophical approach that has some merit. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump lacks a certain consistency here — disturbing signs are emerging of a certain lack of depth as well. Apparently he wants to cut taxes for the well-off. That could be an issue when it comes to spending more on infrastructure and the military at the same time, while trying not to blow up the national debt any further, but those are issues for another day.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bernie Sanders is pretty consistent when it comes to his prescriptions for economic re-balancing. Wall Streeters get rich at the expense of the working class; the liberal democratic economic eco-system is broken and needs a thorough cleansing and overhaul and re-balancing to enable the bottom 99 percent a fair shot at the American Dream. All tried and true, road-tested democratic socialist credo. And there’s something to be said for that. The problem is, when those policy proposals are pushed too far, risk-taking capitalists who might have opened or expanded new businesses don’t see the potential for enough reward for their risk.
What both men have in common is their clear distaste for the Trans Pacific Partnership, a groundbreaking and painstakingly negotiated agreement between the U.S. and its 11 major Pacific trading partners (excluding China, which was a large part of the point). The proposed deal would have cut trade tariffs, leveled the playing field on environmental regulations — thereby accomplishing long sought goals of protecting endangered species, wildlife and fisheries — and perhaps most importantly for the U.S. economy, put it place protections for intellectual property. This commodity, one which the U.S., due to its relatively free and open society has a major advantage, is worth protecting and codifying, so that nations who do try to rip this off get punished for it. Oh, and then there was that little chapter on banning exploitative child labor. But none of that seemed to matter much once the election season neared and politicians from Hillary Clinton to Republican senators like Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania got bad cases of the shivers when they couldn’t conclusively prove to weary and skeptical audiences that it would save jobs.
TPP would have been part of a healthy and productive trend of globalization which in the long run would have lifted prosperity across the board, while most importantly for the moment, preserving the pre-eminent U.S. role in the Pacific. China has been attempting to make inroads here while at the same time stirring the choppy waters of the South China Sea and elsewhere on their side of the Pacific, alarming some of its neighbors there (Japan, Vietnam) who have looked to the U.S. for security and economic leadership. By bailing on TPP, we’ve bailed on them and our own national security self-interest. That however was apparently a concept that resisted a bumper sticker soundbite, and with unions and worried blue collar workers lining up against it, and Hillary Clinton disinclined to give it full-throated support, doomed the agreement, which Trump has vowed to withdraw from on his first day in office. Unless of course it turns out that one of his hotel or golf course projects might be hindered by its shelving — maybe we can hope daughter Ivanka Trump will whisper some advice in Daddy’s ear — but, wait, that would never happen because there are rules against that sort of thing, right?
It’s disheartening when someone who you would like to think knows better, like Sen. Sanders, also falls into the mire of failing to understand the broader reach of the agreement. It’s absence will hamper the U.S.’s ability to impose its preferences on Pacific trade, and undermine our security in another volatile part of the world. The betting here is that much egg is in store for both the likes of the Donald and the Bernie, when these chickens come home to roost.
Perhaps the millennial generation, who have the most to lose from this short-sightedness, will have an opportunity later to fix this, but an opportunity that was firmly in hand has been squandered in the meantime.
Instead, the U.S. is retreating from the world stage when it comes to trade, ceding a larger role to China and quite possibly Russia as well. It’s all well and good to talk about protecting American jobs — who isn’t in favor of that? – but the problem is those jobs are threatened more by automation and technological changes than tariffs that are lowered across the board. Two decades of progress towards making the world a better place through more open trade practices are being reversed, not only here, but in places like Europe, where the misguided vote in the U.K. last June on the Brexit question is feeding the same protectionist wall building sentiment. That’s understandable to a point — there’s only so much change people can handle within a given period of time — but it’s also one that flies in the face of what works in the long run. But right now, the long run doesn’t sell well.
And it’s also clear the TPP is as dead as a doornail
Maybe the takeaway is — don’t trust politicians over 70 who live in the past.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GNAT TV, only the writer.