WHAT ABOUT TRADE?.

Author:Ikenson, Daniel J.
 
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There has been an "absence of any coherent, fresh ideas from the Democratic presidential aspirants that would differentiate their trade policies from Pres. [Donald] Trump's...."

ONE OF THE FEW hopeful, "glass-half-full" thoughts I had after Donald Trump won the election in 2016 was that the new president would prove to be the best salesman of free trade since Adam Smith. No, I was not so deluded to think he would articulate the case for free trade and commit himself to removing all protectionist barriers. On the contrary, I assumed Trump's reckless deployment of tariffs and other trade restrictions would backfire so spectacularly and expose the folly of protectionism so convincingly that the economically discredited philosophy would become politically radioactive once and for all.

Well, the absence of any coherent, fresh ideas from the Democratic presidential aspirants that would differentiate their trade policies from Pres. Trump's suggests that maybe things have not played out as I had expected they would--not yet, anyway.

The cost of Trump's trade wars--the effects of tariffs on nearly $300,000,000,000 of imports and retaliation against nearly $200,000,000,000 of exports--has started to register on the Geiger counter, but we are nowhere near Chernobyl levels yet. The economic pain has been concentrated in a few sectors and regions, and dulled by subsidies as well as fiscal and monetary stimulus. Of course, as this sugar high wears off and the economy slows, conditions are likely to worsen.

Will the Democrats be prepared to capitalize when this happens? Will any of the party's presidential aspirants call out Trump's tariffs? Will any repudiate protectionism? Can any lead the party back to the center on trade? According to all of the major polls, that is exactly where most Democratic voters reside--and most Republican voters as well.

The problem for Democrats is that distancing themselves from Trump's protectionism means distancing themselves from the prevailing Democratic Party orthodoxy. For the past quarter-century, Democrats have been skeptical of--when not outright hostile to--trade and globalization.

In many regards, Trump's right-wing, protectionist, nationalist trade policies are barely distinguishable from the ideas espoused by the Democratic Party's anticorporate, protectionist left wing, which still holds sway over trade policy.

Both favor interventions to achieve particular (often identical) outcomes, such as compelling...

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