Tuning Out the World

Protectionism takes root in both parties.

Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, is the only self-proclaimed socialist in Congress. Lou Dobbs is a close-the-borders CNN host who donated $1,000 to George W. Bush’s first presidential campaign. But when they met on Dobbs’ show on June 21 to discuss the Senate immigration bill, the two aging bulls were harmonizing like the Pet Sounds–era Beach Boys.

“Is there any sense amongst your colleagues in the Senate,” Dobbs rumbled, “that it is time for people to begin to represent their constituents rather than these special interests, corporate interests?”

“You’ve got it,” said Sanders. “Their whole ideology is based on greed. They’re selling out American workers and, in fact, they’re selling out our entire country.”

It was “blatant,” Dobbs added, that both parties “are owned lock, stock, and barrel by corporate America and special interests included in the amnesty legislation.”

Clichés and all, this was a fairly ordinary political conversation in the summer of 2007. Nor was the convergence new. In 1993 conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and leftists such as Jeremy Rifkin stood shoulder to shoulder against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), bemoaning the pending death of American manufacturing.

Fourteen years later, Dobbs and Sanders needn’t be so gloomy. Things are looking up for protectionists left and right. On June 28, the Senate anesthetized an immigration reform bill over concerns that it might grant “amnesty” to illegal immigrants already living and working in the United States. A day later, the House of Representatives let the clock run out on fast track, the presidential power to cut trade deals without congressional amendments.

And the leading candidates for president are saying amen. Take Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), the Democratic front-runner. When her husband was in the White House he lobbied hard for fast track and for NAFTA. In 2002 Sen. Clinton voted against fast track authority for her husband’s successor. In 2006 she voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, a pact with far fewer consequences than NAFTA.

Despite all this, she had to fend off charges that she is not protectionist enough. In June a not-for-attribution memo from the campaign of rival presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) accused Clinton of courting Indian-American voters too closely and of imperiling American jobs by supporting companies that outsource to Bangalore and beyond. The memo referred to her as “Hillary Clinton (D-Punjab),” playing off her investment in an Indian electronic billing services company. Clinton’s campaign forced Obama to apologize for impugning her and for mocking Indian Americans—and then the two co-sponsored a bill punishing nations such as China for undervaluing their currency.

When you consider what NAFTA actually wrought—and you don’t count Bernie Sanders’ angina—this is all a bit mysterious. Americans are wealthier than they were 14 years ago and, with unemployment under 5 percent, are more likely to have jobs. (In the decade before NAFTA, unemployment averaged more than 7 percent.) More Americans own their own homes. Fewer Americans are going to bed hungry—dramatically so, if you scan the data on obesity.

“It’s not as if we’re on the ropes,” says former congressman Tim Penny, a Minnesota Democrat who retired after the NAFTA fight. “We have economic uncertainty but only in certain sectors. Overall unemployment is low; the economy is growing.”

The GOP’s front-runners aren’t adopting the trade demagoguery. Their speechwriters are too busy with immigration demagoguery. Eleven years ago the party rejected Pat Buchanan’s presidential bid and his proposed wall along the Mexican border. Not this year. No GOP candidate opposes a border wall. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, immigration enthusiasts in their previous political lives, spent June blasting the Senate’s immigration bill—not because of the restrictions it put on freedom of movement but because they objected to possible citizenship or special worker status for illegal immigrants.

To former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), Republicans who pander to those voters are economically incoherent. (And political hemophiliacs too: The GOP lost the retiring Kolbe’s Republican-leaning seat in 2006 when it nominated a border hawk who thought Kolbe had been too soft on the issue.) “I don’t know many people who are ardent free traders and who want a wall built,” Kolbe says. “If you’re talking about the movement of goods, how can you not talk about movement of labor? How can you not talk about the movement of people? It’s absolutely absurd.”

It’s especially absurd when you look at the actual data. According to a 2005 study by the University of Bologna’s Gianmarco Ottaviano and the University of California at Davis’ Giovanni Peri, the surge of illegal laborers between 1990 and 2000 raised native-born wages overall but lowered the wages of Americans without high school diplomas by about 1 percent. These workers account for only 8 percent of the labor market, and their numbers are shrinking. In 2006 and 2007, tighter border controls managed to drive down the number of illegal workers picking crops in the Southwest. Americans didn’t flood the fields to do those jobs; the jobs went unfilled.

The immigration bill was badly wounded by intense, angry constituent calls to the Senate—so intense that the switchboard had to be shut down. But it’s unfair to blame rank-and-file voters for the backlash. That anger was ginned up by the party itself, which had built up immigration as a national security issue for the 2006 elections. One TV commercial run by the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Rhode Island attacked Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey (not even a Democrat, but a Republican primary challenger) for “accept[ing] Mexican ID cards that threaten our national security.” If voters nominated Laffey, the ad warned, he would “put our national security at risk in the Senate!”

Democrats can sound just as hyperbolic talking about the economy. After the short recession of 2001–02, the economy has been largely robust and unemployment has dipped everywhere but in communities that have lost manufacturing jobs. The loss of jobs is stark in the Rust Belt cities in Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; most of the rest of the country is undergoing a boom.

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  • ||

    "That anger was ginned up by the party itself, which had built up immigration as a national security issue for the 2006 elections."

    Spoken like someone who doesn't get out much. People on both sides of the political spectrum are really pissed off about immigration. There is a lot more going on than national security. There are a lot of cultural disruptions going on all over the country because of the influx of Latin American immigrants. There is a lot of conflict between them and the natives. Also, do not discount the effects of the immigration rallies. Those things backfired badly. For a lot of people it made the issue no longer about giving people a chance for a better life but instead about a group of squatters who demanded they be accommodated. People have real complaints about immigration. Weigel may not agree with them but it is more than just he GOP getting people ginned up over national security.

  • ||

    I might just make the first comment on this thread. Imagine that.

  • ||

    Democrats' retreat from free trade

    Huh?

    Just when were the Democrats pro free trade?

  • ||

    Well, it's quite a contest - the winner gets a free ipod and a lap dance. And a pony.

  • fyodor||

    John,

    What's a "cultural disruption"?

    BTW, while I disagree with you that people should give more than a rat's ass about immigration, I agree that their sentiments are likely homegrown and not somehow manufactured by opportunistic politicians.

  • ||

    "Just when were the Democrats pro free trade?"

    Well Clinton did get NAFTA but that was with the help of nearly every Republican in Congress and a small minority of Democrats. I think Democratic Presidents have been free traders but Democratic Congressman are too beholden to the greens and unions to ever be free trade.

  • Marcvs||

    There is a lot of conflict between them and the natives.

    You mean like American Indians? Oh, you're talking about people who moved here in the last 100 years? I wish I met half as many Americans that worked as hard as the immigrants I meet in Chicago.

  • ||

    Or not.

    There are a lot of cultural disruptions going on all over the country because of the influx of Latin American immigrants.

    Such as...what, exactly, John? You've had to endure a recorded greeting in Spanish when you call the phone company? Had your retinas burned by a Spanish-language sign? Or your eardrums violated by someone's loud Tejano music?

    Or do you (like all too many people) believe everything Lou Dobbs and vdare.com tell you about Mexicans?

  • ||

    "What's a "cultural disruption"?"

    To give you an example, when I moved here this summer, I stayed at a hotel in Manassas. Near my hotel was a nice development of townhouses they seem to be building everywhere here. All of the townhouses were very well kept up except for one. In one townhouse, the small yard was covered with kids toys and junk and there were two men sitting on coolers listening to loud music drinking beer. I don't have any reason to believe the guys hanging out on their porch were criminals or bad people. But their standards of how you behave in the neighborhood were just different than the standards of their neighbors. I hear a lot of complaints about things like that. I know it is anicdotal but I think these kinds of situations go on a lot and cause a lot of the animosity towards immigration.

  • Samuel Gompers||

    What's a "cultural disruption"?

    When the "undocumented workers" go from working and being polite to gathering in public sexually harassing your 13 yo daughter in Spanish.

    .....from buying groceries with cash in awe of the variety and price to arguing with the cashier
    that they can't put ceveza on their EBT cards.

  • ||

    In one townhouse, the small yard was covered with kids toys and junk and there were two men sitting on coolers listening to loud music drinking beer.



    OMGWTFBBQ!!! Get to the blockades! We can't have people coming to our country and SITTING ON COOLERS!!! AAAAAAAHHHHH!!! PANIC!!!!!!

  • ||

    Incidentally, before you can preach this or that about immigrants, you have to have lived in neighborhood with immigrants. If your only experience with immigrants is the guy who mows your lawn, you can't talk. Anyone who has lived in a neighborhood with a large number of hispanic immigrants knows that cultures really are different. What goes over in Mexico does not always go over in the US. Not that one side is better than they other, but they are different.

  • ||

    If you read and entire column about Democratic oppoosition to CAFTA, and you don't see the phrases "environmental standards" or "labor standards" anywhere in there, you can pretty much just delete it from your hard drive without worrying about missing anything.

  • An Ottawa Reader||

    John:

    (a) The pural of anecdote is not data.
    (b) Slobs live everywhere. They don't grow them in some vat in Tijuana.
    (b) If one townhouse inhabited by slobs is all you can come up with, I think it's safe to say you've lost the thread.

  • ||

    When the "undocumented workers" go from working and being polite to gathering in public sexually harassing your 13 yo daughter in Spanish.

    .....from buying groceries with cash in awe of the variety and price to arguing with the cashier
    that they can't put ceveza on their EBT cards.



    So the problem comes when they start assimilating American culture?

    Maybe we should start deporting carnies?

  • ||

    "OMGWTFBBQ!!! Get to the blockades! We can't have people coming to our country and SITTING ON COOLERS!!! AAAAAAAHHHHH!!! PANIC!!!!!!"

    Of course if it was some NASCAR driving Bubba doing it, you all would be ready to club the guy like a seal. Since it is a Mexican, no one can object. What the hell is so wrong with having some respect for the people around you?

  • ||

    You know, you don't actually have to agree with John about the severity (or even existence) of the problems associated with "cultural disruptions" to acknowledge that the concern he raises does, in fact, explain a great deal of anti-immigrant sentiment.

    Cripes, it's not enough to disagree with an argument or position anymore, you have to deny that it exists?

  • ||

    Well, it's quite a contest - the winner gets a free ipod (with a nominal $400 shipping and handling charge)and a lap dance . And by a pony.

    Fixed it.

  • ||

    "(a) The pural of anecdote is not data.
    (b) Slobs live everywhere. They don't grow them in some vat in Tijuana.
    (b) If one townhouse inhabited by slobs is all you can come up with, I think it's safe to say you've lost the thread."

    I can give you a lot more. Why don't you visit my hometown of Dodge City, kansas sometime. When I grew up there in the 1970s it had 15000 people of which maybe 20% were hispanic all native born. Since that time, large feedlots have moved into the town and it is now 75% hispanic almost no native born. It is a completely different place. It is much dirtier, has a much higher crime rate, the houses are not kept up like they once were, the schools are much worse. By any standard, the quality of life is much worse than it was. It is that way for a lot of towns out there.

    Does that mean immigration is on the whole bad? I don't know, but it was bad for the people who lived out there and they don't like it. It is a little rich for people like you who have never and will never see any of the downsides of immigration to preach to those who have.

  • thoreau||

    I agree with MikeP.

  • ||

    "You know, you don't actually have to agree with John about the severity (or even existence) of the problems associated with "cultural disruptions" to acknowledge that the concern he raises does, in fact, explain a great deal of anti-immigrant sentiment."

    Joe, I don't know that the people who complain about these things are necessarily right. Further, even if they are, that doesn't mean that we should shut down the border. But, that is how a lot of people feel. Thank you for recognizing that fact.

  • ||

    John,

    Lord knows I don't want to sound like a libertarian, but the problem you mention is largely an unintended consequence of immigration regulations.

    By making immigration so dangerous for most Mexicans, the law guarantees that we will get a disproportionate number of young, single men. Young, single men live like pigs.

    Have you ever seen a house occupied by an entire Mexican family, whether nuclear or multi-generational? You could eat off the floors in those places. People who aren't concerned about cleanliness and order don't make washing, drying, and folding laundry the central organizing principle of their home lives!

  • ||

    Of course if it was some NASCAR driving Bubba doing it, you all would be ready to club the guy like a seal.



    If it's their land (or land they're renting), then I reckon the Mexican cooler-sitters and the NASCAR cooler-sitters have precisely the same right to do their cooler sitting and live like pigs. I'll criticize 'em both, but I'll be damned if I'm going to stand by while one group tries to keep the other group out of the country. I don't care if my neighbors' slovenliness is imported or home-grown.

  • fyodor||

    Incidentally, before you can preach this or that about immigrants, you have to have lived in neighborhood with immigrants.

    I live in Denver, plenty of Mexicans everywhere you can shake a stick. Once I asked the guy across the alley not to feed the birds bread crumbs cause it was messy. God that destroyed my way of life.

    Personally I think you have it backwards on the bubba versus Mexican reaction illiciting.

  • ||

    "Have you ever seen a house occupied by an entire Mexican family, whether nuclear or multi-generational? You could eat off the floors in those places. People who aren't concerned about cleanliness and order don't make washing, drying, and folding laundry the central organizing principle of their home lives!"

    That is true. Any time you get a large number of single men from any culture, living without families or roots, you are going to have problems.

  • thoreau||

    Ah, so the prevalence of young, single men explains why in college the science and engineering library always had a broken copy machine, while the humanities and social science library's copy machine didn't show as many signs of abuse!

  • ||

    By making immigration so dangerous for most Mexicans, the law guarantees that we will get a disproportionate number of young, single men. Young, single men live like pigs.

    You're right. The law of unintended consequences rears it's ugly head.

    I'm still waiting for an immigration proposal that recognizes economic and social reality.

  • ||

    Aresen

    Just when were the Democrats pro free trade?



    Actually historically (by which I mean 19th early 20th century) the Democrats were free traders while the Republicans favored high protective tariffs to promte domestic industry.

    At some point unions became an important part of he Democrat coalition and tariffs became policy.

    Then as was pointed out above some Democrats (notably the Democratic Leadership Council) came out as free traders.

    That is an over simplified synopsis. But as in all things Amercan party politics really does not yield to simplistic analysis.

    You will find this out if you ever take a look at the history of race relations.

  • rho||

    while the humanities and social science library's copy machine didn't show as many signs of abuse!

    No, social scientists just don't know how to operate copy machines.

  • ||

    ...the science and engineering library always had a broken copy machine...



    Yes, and you found out that the civil engineers were not called that because they were polite.

  • fyodor||

    Well thanks for answering my question anyway, John, even if I don't see how anyone's culture is disrupted by the presence of someone else who doesn't live the way you think they should.

  • TLB||

    Reason is famous! I just started a thread about Weigel's latest here.

  • ||

    "What's a "cultural disruption"?"

    Does this count?

  • Marcvs||

    Tat Twam Asi:

    "The diversity ideologues deserve whatever ill tidings they get."

    Yeah, that's a really convincing column from Murdock's Wall Street Journal.

    BTW, if you didn't catch my sarcasm, the answer is "no."

  • ||

    Wall street is losing the right and as usual the stupid party is too stupid to understand why.

  • ||

    I can give you a lot more. Why don't you visit my hometown of Dodge City, kansas sometime. When I grew up there in the 1970s it had 15000 people of which maybe 20% were hispanic all native born. Since that time, large feedlots have moved into the town and it is now 75% hispanic almost no native born. It is a completely different place. It is much dirtier, has a much higher crime rate, the houses are not kept up like they once were, the schools are much worse. By any standard, the quality of life is much worse than it was. It is that way for a lot of towns out there.

    Theres a suburb near me named Meadowbrook. In the late 1970s and early 1980s it was an abandoned rat hole.

    Now, it may not be the wealthiest place in the world but from what I hear its been cleaned up quite a bit and crime is down. Guess who did it ? Cambodian and Central American immigrants.

  • ||

    Anyway, theres a neighbor right next to me that sits on his cooler and drinks beer every night. Doesn't look Mexican to me, and doesn't really bother me all that much.

  • fyodor||

    Tat Twam Asi,

    It counts if John, whom I was asking, says it does! And if so, then a black person moving into a previously all white neighborhood would be just as guilty! Sure you wanna go there?

  • ||

    It counts if John, whom I was asking, says it does! And if so, then a black person moving into a previously all white neighborhood would be just as guilty! Sure you wanna go there?

    John isn't making it about race, really. Its more about wanting to live in a neighborhood where people act by middle class standards. He'd be just as upset if he lived near three row hosues full of college sophmores.

  • fyodor||

    Cesar,

    I said "if" with regard to John. But the article Tat Twam Asi linked to specifically describes a claimed problem due to "ethnic diversity."

  • Sal Paradise||

    I don't know why we're worried about the Middle East.

    The real threat to this country is swarthy Mexicans sitting on coolers.

  • ||

    "Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains." - Thomas Jefferson

  • Asharak||

    "When you consider what NAFTA actually wrought-and you don't count Bernie Sanders' angina-this is all a bit mysterious. Americans are wealthier than they were 14 years ago and, with unemployment under 5 percent, are more likely to have jobs. (In the decade before NAFTA, unemployment averaged more than 7 percent.) More Americans own their own homes. Fewer Americans are going to bed hungry-dramatically so, if you scan the data on obesity."

    This is true, but the real value of wages have also fallen, job security is nonexistent and let's not forget the recent foreclosure epidemic.

    And if NAFTA is real free trade, then I'm the Sultan of Brunei.

  • Asharak||

    have=has

  • Asharak||

    "Reason is famous! I just started a thread about Weigel's latest here."

    "Free" Republic has even less validity than you!

    Have you told your freeper buddies about your 9/11 truther sympathies, too?

  • Nasikabatrachus||

    Lord knows I don't want to sound like a libertarian, but the problem you mention is largely an unintended consequence of immigration regulations.

    Yeah, we definitely want to avoid sounding like labels we broadly disagree with. Somebody might execute us for desertion. Don't worry, though, joe, you snuck across and back long enough to make an excellent point.

  • Nasikabatrachus||

    "Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains." - Thomas Jefferson

    Must be why times of free trade are so peaceful, since there are lots of people who have vested interests in general sanity.

  • Mr. Spock||

    Remember in the newest Star Wars movies how everyone was excited about Anakin because he would bring "ballance to the force". Never mind the fact that there were lots of Jedi and one Sith, "ballance" was a good thing. Of course most of them got wiped out. That is how I view free trade.

  • NP||

    I briefly touched on this in the thread for Brian's earlier post today, and I'll say it again: Libertarians, in principle, should be opposed to such government boondoggles as NAFTA and CAFTA. It simply amazes me how knee-jerk many libertarians can be to the so-called "free trade" agreements. Let the free market truly be free and work its magic without such government intervention. Doing otherwise only gives ammunition to fair trade activists.

  • ||

    Libertarians, in principle, should be opposed to such government boondoggles as NAFTA and CAFTA.

    Well, realistically there isn't any such animal as "international free trade". All governments put restrictions and regulations on trade; that's what governments do, always have and probably always will. To the extent that agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA create opportunities for transactions that otherwise couldn't occur, they're probably beneficial, although I agree that calling such arrangements "free trade" is misleading.

    Unfortunately, we probably never will have true free trade on an international scale, so the theoretical benefits of it will have to remain theoretical. I expect we'll always have to settle for "Not Free Trade, But An Incredible Simulation!". How the results of that situation compare against those that would be produced by actual free trade isn't really clear to me.

  • ||

    The political opposition to the immigration bill was as much about political power as it was about economics. That became clear when you probed these political activists for what their real concern was:

    Historically, first-generation immigrants tend to vote for Democratic and liberal candidates. Many social conservatives feared that providing up to 10 million Hispanic immigrants with a path to citizenship would result in a new cohort of up to 10 million new voters, most of whom could be expected to vote Democrat (for the near future at least if not longer).

    With recent national elections being so close, in which a candidate wins the White House by a small margin and/or with less than a true majority of the popular vote, an extra 6 or 7 million Democrat votes was something that Republicans and conservatives just didn't want to see.

  • NP||

    Pig Mannix,

    I agree that there's a fat chance of seeing truly free trade emerge in our lifetime, but we should not be mistaken into thinking that NAFTA and CAFTA are the next best alternatives at our disposal. First, they create the false notion that the government can somehow help drive free trade. Second, and more importantly, the benefits they do offer are minimal to begin with. Employment will stabilize around the NAIRU in the long term no matter what kinds of trade agreements we have, and the trade surplus that was supposed to result from the NAFTA should have been discounted from the start because it's next to impossible to run a trade surplus with a fast-growing economy like that of Mexico. (Not that trade deficits are universally bad, of course: they can actually boost aggregate demand as long as there's no excessive borrowing.) Given how much oppostion there has been to free trade agreements (and I'm not just talking about the Naomi Kleins of the world here), I just don't think the small benefits are worth the costs.

  • dhex||

    if you want "job security" learn to be flexible, learn to be indispensable and never stop growing.

    alternately you can just keep yelling DEY TURK UR JERBS or as its spelled in WackoLand, DEYTURK URJERBS.

  • ||

    Uh, yeah, it's the people who are concerned about dislocation that live in Wackoland.

  • ||

    David Weigel's references to Peri and Ottaviano shows that he never read the study. P/O constructed a theoretical model that predicted that natives should benefit from immigration. Their actual empirical data showed very large losses from Open Borders. The model was contrived in such a manner that it was impossible for immigration not yield gains. In other words, they designed their model to match their preconceived notions, not the actual dismal facts.

    As always, the truth is worse. They used a national COLI (Cost Of Living Index) to deflate California wages. However, the California COLI is much higher than the national average. If you adjust California wages for California prices, California emerges as one of the poorest states in the Union (which sadly it is). It wasn't before mass immigration destroyed the American Dream in California. In time, Open Borders will destroy the American Dream everywhere.

    Since then Peri has shown that immigration makes housing unaffordable in California (not a new or original conclusion). This time he has his theory and facts right. However, he claims that unaffordable housing is really a "benefit". I guess high food prices for starving people are a "benefit" as well.

    Typically, Peri (and Weigel) ignore the vast evidence that imported poor people are a substantial net burden on the taxpayer. Every serious study in the US and abroad demonstrates what a bad deal, unskilled immigration really is. It does yield profits for corporations exploiting cheap labor though… Which is exactly the real point.

    Weigel make one good argument. Opposition to "Free Trade" and Open Borders are linked. Both policies yield gains for exploitative elites at the expense of the American people. Lou Dobbs is simply telling the truth by opposing both.

  • Steven Capozzola||

    The bottom line is JOBS. The U.S. lost 46,000 manufacturing jobs in August 2007. More significantly, the ongoing losses are taking a cumulative toll on communities throughout the country. We need to adequately enforce our trade laws, and hold countries like China accountable for illegal trading practices such as currency manipulation. Otherwise, we'll continue to shed manufacturing jobs.
    www.manufacturethis.org

  • ||

    Problem with this theory: then why aren't Democrats retreating from immigration reform?

  • ||

    joe,

    The Democrats have enough brains to know Democratic voters when they see them. The Republicans (some of them) are too studip or more likely greedy to open their eyes.

  • ||

    In Defense of Lou Dobbs,

    Weigel tries to make it sound like the economy and the American people are thriving. This is far from the case. Overall economic performance under Bush has been mediocre (at best) for most Americans. For better or worse, the Bush administration has been notable for its failing trade policies and overt promotion of illegal immigration.

    The trade deficit in goods has expanded from -$469.6 billion in Q1 2001 to -$885.5 billion in Q3 2006 (and declined to -$829.1 billion in Q2 2007). The deficit in goods and services and the Current Account have followed a similar pattern. As a consequence the US has lost 3.1 million manufacturing jobs since Jan 2001 (17.105 million versus 14.003 million in Aug 2007).

    Of course, the other side of the trade/CA deficit coin has been the fast rising tide of household debt and, of late, mortgage loan fiascos. If is worth noting that the flood of foreign money back into the US as debt (rather than purchases of exports) hasn't been motivated by the attractiveness of US investment returns. Private investors have increasing shunned the US and the CA deficit has been funded by foreign government seeking to maintain overvalued currencies instead.

    In summary, the Bush administration's trade policies have amounted to an ever rising substitution of imports for domestic production with highly adverse consequences for American workers with losses concentrated in manufacturing areas. The household income statistics for the Midwest are poor (under Bush) . For the region, median household income is down 8.5% (and -13.5% in Missouri, -10.3% in Illinois, -11.9% in Michigan, and -9.5% in Wisconsin). See JOINT ECONOMIC COMMITTEE Fact Sheet.

    The flip side is of course, a vast expansion of household debt, the housing bubble, and now the subprime, Alt-A implosion. Together these dismal statistics amount to a failing trade policy. However, no mention of this debacle is to found in Weigel's column.

    The failures of the Bush administration on immigration of so legion that I don't think I need to enumerate them in detail. Bush slashed immigration enforcement after 9-11 (see Report: Immigration workplace fines and arrests plummet or Less Pain for Employers) and publicly promoted illegal immigration on number occasions ("Hell, if they'll walk across Big Bend, we want 'em").

    However, the issue at hand is the impact of mass immigration since Bush took office. Any number of studies have shown large scale worker displacement since then. For a recent example, see Impact of Immigration In South Carolina. A grim and useful quote

    "According to U.S. Census data, among construction workers real median earnings for Latinos dropped approximately 12 percent from 2000 to 2005, even as the number of construction workers expanded 181 percent. Black construction labor saw inflation-adjusted earnings fall two percent. It is also surprising to find that total Black employment dropped by 24 percent during the construction boom."

    Of course, no mention of the America's immigration problems can be found in Weigel's article. Instead we get the usual WSJ cheap labor extremism and "Amnesty Now, Amnesty Forever" ideology. Anyone with any knowledge of the subject recognizes that Amnesty now, means millions of more illegal aliens later and yet another Amnesty down the road. Of course, immigration enforcement is ignored other than to denounce it.

    By contrast, Lou Dobbs has spoken out on these issues time and time again. Can anyone really imagine Lou Dobbs noting the poor economic performance of this administration without talking about the reasons why? By contrast, Weigel appears to be quite capable of overlooking the elephants in the room.

    As for Lou Dobbs and the facts, Dobbs operates with a bulls-eye on his back. His critics are quite willing to pounce on anything they can demonstrate is a factual inaccuracy. The number of times he has come up short is quite small.

  • ||

    Peter Schlaffler,

    If support for immigration reform was costing Democrats at all among the labor constituency that Weigel thinks they are pandering to by opposing NAFTA, then the immigrant voters are a drop in the bucket.

  • ||

    Joe,

    That's a complex point. Quite a few Democrats from Union heavy areas did oppose the final Senate Amnesty bill. Bayh, Brown, Byrd, Dorgan, Harkin, McCaskill, Rockefeller, and Stabenow come to mind. This is not the complete list of Democrats who opposed the Amnesty bill, just those from traditional union areas.

    See http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=110&session=1&vote=00235 for the actual roll call.

    By contrast, Democrats from immigrant heavy areas tended to support the bill. Boxer, Feinsten, Kennedy, and Menendez come to mind.

    The Democratic party is torn between representing American workers and families hurt by immigration and the lure of immigrant votes. Most Democrats succumbed to the latter. Of course, the dominant ideology of PC clearly played a role as well.

    Beyond that quite a few Democrats don't represent labor at all any more. Kennedy and Dorgan spared over cheap labor on the Senate floor. Kennedy insisted that paying "chicken pluckers" $10-15 an hour was unthinkable. Dorgan insisted that with immigration enforcement it was both plausible and desirable. Kennedy through a temper tantrum in response.

  • ||

    First, they create the false notion that the government can somehow help drive free trade.

    What do you mean by this? If the government is not allowing free trade, how can anyone else "drive" it?

    And, incidentally, for a case where a government actually did drive free trade, look at Australia. Their Productivity Commission has been instrumental in liberalizing trade policy. See for example a speech by the Chairman to a hearing discussing the Doha Round.

    Second, and more importantly, the benefits they do offer are minimal to begin with. Employment will stabilize around the NAIRU in the long term no matter what kinds of trade agreements we have, ...

    That may be true, but it's hardly relevant. You'd much rather have your employed working jobs of higher comparative advantage than lower.

    Given how much oppostion there has been to free trade agreements (and I'm not just talking about the Naomi Kleins of the world here), I just don't think the small benefits are worth the costs.

    Somehow the people who claim to be against NAFTA or CAFTA or BlahFTA because they are not really free trade never seem to say, "Of course, the US should simply unilaterally drop all trade barriers. That would be much better than these haphazard regional trade agreements that the politically connected have such a hand in writing."

    Why is that?

  • ||

    Peter S.,

    Those Democrats that opposed the final "amnesty" bill were pushing for a more pro-immigrant bill.

    More importantly, the unions were pushing for a pro-immigrant, put-em-on-the-books (ie, amnesty bill) - the very constituency you claim is most opposed to it!

    There really isn't a divide in the Democratic Party about immigration. They're for it.

  • ||

    Joe,

    I you read the actual statements of the Democrats who opposed the bill, they made it clear that they opposed Amnesty and the "guest worker" provisions of the bill. McCaskill ran for office opposing Amnesty. Webb introduced an amendment to severely limit the Amnesty (his amendment failed). Dorgan tried to remove the entire "guest worker" plan by amendment (this effort failed) and then severely restricted it by amendment (successfully with the help of Reid).

    Once again, check the roll call. Democrats from labor oriented, low immigrant states opposed the bill. Democrats from high immigrant states supported it.

    As for the position of labor, the AFL-CIO came out against the bill just days before the final vote. Why? Because they opposed the remaining (restricted) "guest worker" plan. Note that the La Raza house union, the SEIU, supported the bill to the bitter end.

    Except for the SEIU, the labor movement is strongly opposed to "guest worker" plans and illegal immigration in general. See "Hoffa: GOP Has Destroyed Itself" (http://www.newsmax.com/headlines/hoffa_/2007/09/03/29500.html). The article is an interview with Jimmy Hoffa. A useful quote:

    "While this and other administration moves have made the prospect of the union backing a Republican candidate next year "very remote," Hoffa also acknowledged some frustration with the Democratic field for failing to address one of the Teamsters' top issues: illegal immigration.

    The Teamsters strongly oppose the guest-worker program included in the bipartisan "compromise plan" President Bush proposed earlier this year, which many Democrats supported, and Hoffa charged that the Bush administration has failed to stem the flow of illegals in large part to keep wages down in the U.S.

    "Illegal immigration is one of the major problems facing the U.S.," he said. "We have to distinguish between legal and illegal immigration. I do think we have to find a way to integrate the people who are here and control our borders.

    "The AFL-CIO and Teamsters have come out against the guest-worker program. We want to find some way for a path to citizenship for the 15 million who are here but we don't want a guest-worker program.

    "It's a matter of supply and demand. Part of the plan for Bush pushing for unlimited people coming across the border, it's basically designed to compress wages.""

    If you still have any doubts check out the "debate" between Teddy K. and Senator Dorgan. Teddy K. said that it was impossible to pay "chicken pluckers" $10 or $15 an hour.

    Senator Dorgan sensibly replied

    "Mr. President, let me stand up and say a word on behalf of chicken pluckers. I had no idea that was the debate. But they will never get $15 an hour as long as we bring in cheap labor through the back door to pluck chickens."

    What was happening?

    "Kennedy has apparently confused the laborers with the companies that sell chicken, and according to ABC News was also "red-faced and gesticulating toward Dorgan" and "continued to howl at Dorgan.""

    See (http://wonkette.com/politics/dept'-of-grumpy-old-men/ted-kennedy-cares-about-the-chicken-pluckers-262969.php)

    The sad fact of the matter is that Teddy K. has become a militant advocate of low-wage immigration. Why? Because he cares about immigrants, including illegal immigrants, and has lost any apparent interest in Americans.

  • ||

    Joe,

    Only two Democrats threatened to vote against the bill because it wan't pro-immigrant enough. They were Boxer and Menendez. Both ended up suporting the bill.

  • NP||

    MikeP,

    I'm not sure whether you simply wanted to express your frustration or you really did want your questions to be answered (probably you intended both), because the answers should be pretty obvious. But I'm gonna assume you were serious and answer each of your points accordingly.

    What do you mean by this? If the government is not allowing free trade, how can anyone else "drive" it?

    And, incidentally, for a case where a government actually did drive free trade, look at Australia. Their Productivity Commission has been instrumental in liberalizing trade policy. See for example a speech by the Chairman to a hearing discussing the Doha Round.



    Don't mean to sound too patronizing, but it looks like you don't get the concept of free trade. Free trade is a market system where goods and services can be exchanged without such governmental restrictions as tariffs, quotas and other trade barriers. Free trade as such can exist only without these government interventions.

    As for the Productivity Commission, it's rather curious that you tout it as the force behind Australia's liberal trade policy. It is an advisory body and of course it will advise the Australian government to adopt the best economic course possible, hence their liberal trade policy. But again, the changes towards such a policy are implemented in response to the Australian government's formerly less liberal trade policy, not in addition to it.

    Second, and more importantly, the benefits they do offer are minimal to begin with. Employment will stabilize around the NAIRU in the long term no matter what kinds of trade agreements we have, ...

    That may be true, but it's hardly relevant. You'd much rather have your employed working jobs of higher comparative advantage than lower.



    The problem is that, as I said later in the same sentence, the U.S. ran a trade deficit following the NAFTA because of Mexico's (and maybe to a lesser extent Canada's) fast-growing economy. I don't have the data to support this, but it's probably safe to say that the U.S. job market was negatively affected accordingly and whatever comparative advantage we did gain, if at all, was rather small (though, again, this shouldn't matter in the long run). Now, of course, anti-globalization activists and others likewise inclined pass this off as yet another "failing" of free trade, which many of the unsuspecting public unfortunately take as a fact. So instead of promoting free trade, we instead kill the chance of a more authentic version of it emerging in the future. Again, given such costs I don't think it's wise for us to push for such bureaucracy-laden trade agreements as NAFTA and CAFTA.

    Given how much oppostion there has been to free trade agreements (and I'm not just talking about the Naomi Kleins of the world here), I just don't think the small benefits are worth the costs.

    Somehow the people who claim to be against NAFTA or CAFTA or BlahFTA because they are not really free trade never seem to say, "Of course, the US should simply unilaterally drop all trade barriers. That would be much better than these haphazard regional trade agreements that the politically connected have such a hand in writing."

    Why is that?



    First, this isn't really my own position (you may find this hard to believe, but not everyone here is a textbook libertarian); I simply wanted to say that libertarians who do support government-imposed trade agreements have a lot to answer for. Second, maybe I don't pay as much attention to them as you do, but I thought this ("the US should simply unilaterally drop all trade barriers") is exactly what libertarians do argue.

    My beef with these free trade agreements, the NAFTA in particular, is that they add too much to the already burdensome level of bureaucracy and therefore not as effective as intended. Too many exceptions and technicalities for the elimination of tariffs, not to mention the monstrous new set of regulations carried by the NAAEC and the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (you see now why I called the agreements boondoggles?). If they weren't so bureaucratic in nature I probably would be more open to endorsing government-imposed free trade agreements, which I do agree are, realistically, the best hope we have of moving towards free trade.

  • NP||

    "...whatever comparative advantage we did gain, if at all, was rather small."

    Man, that was rather stupid phrasing on my part. Change that to "whatever comparative advantage we did gain, since tariffs were not eliminated across the board and some phased out over a 15-year period, was likely small in the short run."

  • ||

    NP,

    I still cannot be completely certain you aren't a believer in unequivocal free trade, but it appears that you prove my point: People who argue that passing NAFTA is worse than not passing NAFTA are not really for wholesale and unilateral free trade. Rather they find the fact that these agreements may be poor approximations of free trade a convenient argument to use against the agreements.

    I see things the other way: Even though these agreements may be poor approximations of free trade, outright tariffs and restrictions for the explicit cause of protectionism are the opposite of free trade. Phasing them out, even haphazardly, is better than living with them.

    I myself am for unequivocal free trade via unilateral dismantling of all trade barriers and subsidies. While I may not like CAFTA much, or believe that it adds complexities that may actually make some trade more costly, in the grand scheme of ideas and politics, CAFTA's passing was a step toward freer trade, and CAFTA's failing would have been a step away from freer trade. I assure you that the marchers in the streets arguing against CAFTA were not pro free trade.

  • ||

    Don't mean to sound too patronizing, but it looks like you don't get the concept of free trade.

    Oh, I get the concept of free trade. But I fail to understand your assertion that, if the government makes free trade illegal, anyone can "drive" free trade. One can pay one's tariffs. One can petition to get redress of grievances. But until the government changes the law, one cannot exercise free trade.

    It is an advisory body and of course it will advise the Australian government to adopt the best economic course possible, hence their liberal trade policy.

    My interest in the Australian Productivity Commission is for two reasons. (1) I have never heard such pro-free-trade words from any American official or body. Certainly the US policy of forming bilateral or regional trade agreements is the opposite of the Australian approach of unilaterally dropping tariffs. And (2) I know of no other country in recent history that has adopted a unilateral policy of dropping tariffs, which indicates that other countries' flavors of Productivity Commission have either not come up with the same conclusions or not met with the same success.

    The problem is that, as I said later in the same sentence, the U.S. ran a trade deficit following the NAFTA because of Mexico's (and maybe to a lesser extent Canada's) fast-growing economy.

    Since the trade deficit is a mostly irrelevant accounting metric, I fail to understand why its existence or lack of existence would imply anything about the goodness of a trade agreement. If it turns out that the greatest US comparative advantage is in its productivity, stability, and rule of law, then it is entirely consistent with freer and greater trade that foreign nations would sell the US goods and use the proceeds to invest in US instruments. What you call trade deficit I call investment surplus.

  • NP||

    MikeP,

    Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think you're making this a lot more complicated than it is, because we actually agree on the fundamental points: that free trade is mucho bueno, and that the government should do away with any restrictions that get in the way of it. We just differ on the nature of the government's role and the significance of the current trade agreements as instruments for free trade.

    You keep saying that no one can "drive" free trade if not for the the government. Let me clarify further: I didn't mean to say that the government cannot play any role in bringing about free trade. As the current situation stands, the government must play a role, because they will have to dismantle any trade barriers that they themselves had established in the first place. The government certainly can and should perform such an overhaul or, in the case of the Australian Productivity Commission, find ways to encourage free trade, but to me this is more like correcting the trade system, not driving it. I think you disagreed with me on just this particular semantic choice of mine.

    Now on to the trade agreements. As I said in my earlier post I do concede that free trade agreements are the next best thing we have to pure free trade, but not the ones we currently have. As I think you'll agree, most of the anti-globalization protesters will never come to see the benefits of free trade. Come what may. Never, ever, ever. And again the economically illiterate members of the public will take their mostly frivolous objections as facts and you know what will happen next. All I'm saying is, if we're gonna fight this battle we should try to form trade agreements that focus on eliminating trade barriers without such bureaucratic baggage as NAAEC and NAALC. It's not that I don't welcome the gains in comparative advantage from these trade agreements, or that I don't think the trade deficit is a mostly irrelevant economic measure. I do. I just want the most efficient trade agreements possible so that the benefits will much more outweigh the costs of answering anti-globalization activism and rehabilitating the damaged image of free trade,and also the opportunity costs of the lost benefits that would have resulted from fewer regulations and other bureaucratic shackles. This was what I was trying to say.

  • NP||

    But I'll give you this, MikeP. What's done is done, and more harm than good would ensue if we just repealed the trade agreements already in place and replaced them with more "superior" ones. Having said that, we should strive for less bureaucracy and fewer regulations for any future trade agreements.

  • ||

    You outline a good approach, NP. But when business, labor, legislators, and administrators all feel the need to have bureaucracies in place to protect their perceived interests in the presence of freer trade, and when they are negotiating with each other rather than with the economy at large, it is tough to get rid of those bureaucracies and regulations. You're right that if we can move the tenor of the free trade debate more toward "free trade" and away from "protecting stakeholders," we will all be better off.

    It does sound like we agree far more than I gathered from first readings. Pardon my misinterpretations and thanks for the clarifications.

  • NP||

    No problem, MikeP. I'm glad we were able to come to terms.

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