Democrat congress = protectionist economic policies?

I’m no economist, but I dabble in it on the weekends. I’ve read a lot of books by people whom I assumed are “liberal” economists – Stiglitz, Sachs, Sen, T. Friedman (so maybe he’s not an ecnomist), etc. – all of whom, if I’m not mistaken, preach anything but protectionist economics. Yet, now that Congress has taken a slide to the left, I keep seeing articles popping up about protectionism in the US.

I started thinking a lot about this with the Dubai Ports debacle (which I thought was a whole lot of hooplah for nothing, but that’s beside the post). The last thing America needs is a good dose of French protectionism .

So, are the Dems going to be more protectionist than the Rep. majority was?

I always saw the difference between the two being that the Reps seem to be a little too close to big business, which is to say, they appear quite willing to give contracts to companies without competitive bidding or to pursue policies that would make it harder for companies from other countries to compete (though competition is the foundation of conservative economics, or so I thought). Maybe Dems are the same, and maybe this is all just politics. I don’t know. I’m new at this.

As far as what I thought “liberal” economics was, aside from near universal rejection of the Bush tax cuts as opposed to a weighted tax system (don’t know if that’s the term, I’m talking about the rich paying more and poor paying less percentage-wise), I thought that the general tendence of liberal economists was to support fair-trade over free-trade. It’s all about, as I see it, creating more competition, not about protectionism.

What’s the word?

There are several factions in the Democratic party. The DLC, best represented by the Clintons, is more a globalist, free trading wing of the party. Then there are the populists, supported by trade unions, that are quite protectionist. Finally, there’s the group on the far left that’s anti-globalization for many reasons - they oppose ‘sweat shops’, want environmental protection rules written into trade agreements, etc. They’re also somewhat protectionist, but for different reasons than economic populism.

The reason you’re reading so much about protectionism and the Democratic party is that in the last election, a lot of the newly-elected Democrats were populists, strengthening that wing of the party.

Free trade is like a free press. Free press is only a benefit to those with a press.
Free trade is only a benefit to those with a cargo ship.

Democrats won’t put up free trade barriers but they will insist on more fair trade.

People reading newspapers don’t benefit from a free press?

I don’t benefit from buying cheaper goods from abroad? I didn’t know that!

Now, that’s funny. How is “fair trade” any different from protectionist trade barriers?

I do think **Sam **has a good point, though. The common theme (in as much as there was one) for Democrats in the last elections was populism. And that’s why we hear more about managing trade these days.

Populist “fair trade” isn’t solely a Democrat issue. Many Republicans are in favor of “fair trade,” especially when industries in their state will benefit from keeping consumers from buying goods from overseas or forcing consumers to pay higher prices for goods from overseas.

They’re not. It’s simply political double speak.

How do all you free traders feel about the whole fair trade coffee issue?

This is an effort by a private organization to help ensure that farmers are paid better wages, right? As long as it does not try to influence the U.S. government to enact its views into law, I’m all for it. I think that organizations of this sort – which allow people to use their dollars to try and affect social change by modifying their purchases – are a good thing.

What’s wrong with governments doing the same thing, if their people are behind it?

It’s the difference between voluntarily choosing something and being coerced into something. I have no problem with people voluntarily choosing to pay more for coffee in order to ensure that certain farmers receive more money. I do have a problem with a government forcing people to pay more for that product. You have the right to spend your money as you see fit, but you don’t have the right to tell me how to spend my money.

And it’s pretty difficult to tell what govenrment action people are truly “behind.” Most trade policies are enacted at the behest of small interest groups that do not want to compete with foreign companies. Therefore, they get the government to either ban people from buying from foreign companies or to pay more money for goods made by these companies. It’s basically transferring money from consumers to the pockets of well-connected companies. Protectionist policies are the ultimate form of corporate welfare, which is why I’m so surprised that liberals are often in favor of them.

If the people are really behind it, why do they need the government to do anything? This is one of those things that people can choose to do-- opt in or opt out. That’s why its called “free” trade.

That’s a good point. If coffee drinkers really cared about this issue, then they would all be drinking “fair trade coffee.” The fact that they aren’t doing so points to the fact that this idea may not be as popular as it should be. After all, it’s easy for people to say that they are in favor of this or that ideal, but as soon as you ask them to truly back it by changing their behavior, you see how committed they really are.

Yep. There is no need for this to be an all or nothing issue. For example, we as a society don’t want anyone to steal, so we make it illegal to do so. There’s no opting in or opting out of that issue. But if a segment of society wants to support poor farmers in 3rd world countries (or whatever), there isn’t any overriding reason to make everyone do the same thing.

I wouldn’t put it quite that way, since I think a lot of people would have no qualms about forcing people to help farmers in third world countries.

We outlaw theft because no one consents to being robbed. It, like murder and other non-consensual crimes, are against the law because they violate the rights of a victim.

Coffee growing violates no one’s rights, however. Sure, it may be preferable that third world farmers are paid more, but no one is forcibly making them grow coffee for low prices. These farmers contract with coffee companies to sell their crop and they have a choice of whether or not to grow such a crop at the price offerred. And while that price may be low according to some people, no one is being forced to do anything. However, if certain people think these prices are too low, then they can band together to ensure that farmers receive more money. That is the Fair Trade Coffee organization at work. However, some people care more about having a cheap cup of coffee, so they choose not to buy the Fair Trade Coffee. They should be free to do so.

I kinda felt like I was coerced into spending tax dollars on the fricking Iraq war. If the conservatives can coerce the rest of us into a huge, expensive, boondoggle like that, why shouldnt’ the liberal be able to coerce the rest of us into doing something decent and humane for a change?

Yes, but there is no overriding reason for the state to step in and let those people force others to join them. That’s not true with the police. That’s all I was trying to say-- of course there are people who would like to force others to comply with any number of personal choices they prefer to make.

I don’t think you should have been coerced into spending dollars on the Iraq war.

Furthermore, you can’t coerce people to be moral. Morality does not come from the barrel of a gun. People must choose to be moral.

Also, how moral is it to force someone to pay more for a cup of coffee? If you choose to do so, then good for you, but forcing someone else to do so is simply wrong.

Let’s not forget that the Republican record on free trade is pretty dismal to begin with. From the steel tarrifs to the gambling laws (i.e. we allow all sorts of state-controlled and approved gambling here, but try to ban overseas online gambling firms) to Bush basically rolling back all the agricultural subsidy reforms from the Clinton era, the Republican led USA has not been a particularly strong endorser of free trade in practice, as opposed to rhetoric.

In addition, I think there have been several very promising “fair trade” programs like the one in Cambodia wherein we give very favored status to nations that pass labor laws doing things like requiring heat and light and no whipping other basic humanities. These seemed to really raise the standard of living in Cambodia and the jobs and quality of jobs available… only to be lapsed. I think initiatives like this: that encourage countries to compete without going to the lowest common demoninator in terms of mistreating and explioting their slaves er, I mean, workers, are fair compromises…

Well, you can “coerce” people into doing almost anything you want if you get enough votes in Congress. The question is, what is good public policy. I agree now, as I did back in 2002, that the Iraq war was terrible public policy. But I also think enforcing “fair trade laws” is bad public policy, too. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Look, let’s not argue an economic question in terms of abstract principles like “liberty.” :rolleyes: Sometimes free trade is the best thing for a national economy. Sometimes protectionism is. Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln thought very highly of high tariff barriers to protect American industry from competition by the British, who were way ahead in industrialization. It’s doubtful the U.S. could have developed as vigorously as it did without such protection. Which does not necessarily mean it remains a good idea under 21st-Century conditions.