The Leader of the Dobbsian Democrats Issues An Epistle

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Ever since Bill O'Reilly evolved into an amalgam of Kathy Lee Gifford and Howard Hughes (Buy my spin-off products! Why is everyone out to get me?)

CNN's Lou Dobbs has become the most amusing polluter of American airwaves. His latest column is no exception—revelling in post-election spin that called border hawk, trade protectionist Democrats "Lou Dobbs Democrats," the man himself draws a mighty sword and cleaves the battlefield of his enemies.

Elitists like [Fox News and Roll Call pundit Morton] Kondracke dismiss calls for balanced and mutual international trade as protectionism and nationalism. He and others completely disregard the $5 trillion in trade debt that the United States has built up through 30 consecutive years of trade deficits. That trade debt is rising faster than our national debt and is simply economically unsustainable, no matter what any faith-based economist would argue. Our political, business and media elites continue to disregard reality.

Like Kondracke, those elites dismiss continuing concerns about the security of our ports and borders—more than five years after September 11, 2001—as mere nationalism and xenophobia. Not a single one of them has been honest enough to admit that failure to secure our borders and ports leaves this nation unacceptably vulnerable to terrorist attack and flooded with billions of dollars of illegal drugs. How can any rational, independent thinker accept such a reality?

And in the mind of those elites, any call to curtail illegal immigration is xenophobic, even though ours is the most racially and ethnically diverse society on the planet; even though we bring in one million immigrants legally to this country every year. Without question, I am an independent populist, and as I've said before, the antonym of populism is elitism, which I reject as simply un-American.

First, can we agree that calling anyone "elite" is the most ironic thing a cable TV pundit can do? I mean, apart from Sean Hannity calling someone "such a squint-eyed lightweight that if you took his watch off he'd start levitating"? Second, I think there's a risk of Dobbsian Democrats overplaying their hand in this next Congress. In the old, bad days before 1994, trade policy has the effect on Dems that a box of pirhanas has on a school of beluga whales—throw it in the water and watch half of them scatter and the other half die. The Sherrod Browns, Bernie Sanders, Jon Testers and (sigh) James Webbs who follow Dobbsian doctrine are going to be cut off at the pass by the party's dominant free traders, especially now that the free traders (like Hillary) are mounting their presidential bids.

NEXT: Kathryn Johnston

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  1. I wondered if anyone at Reason was ever going to give Dobbs a good pounding. The guy’s a complete nutter when it comes to protectionist tariff economics and immigration issues who has managed the most incredible trick a crazy guy can master: he can look you in the eye and SEEM sane.

  2. This is so appropriate for right before a major family holiday. Lou Dobbs has just found a way to make money by being everyone’s obnoxious relative. My late uncle used to drag out his Traditional Thanksgiving Rant every year, right between the chocolate pie and the kickoff of the Cowboys game. (This was the 70’s and 80’s. They were still good then.) Nothing Is Made In American Anymore was always the basic rant. Because Wilbur was a generally nice guy, the rant was short. Later on, he even mellowed and favored free trade. My brother-in-law has now taken over the Official Ranter position, with The Mexicans Are Taking Over, Stealing Our Jobs And Going On Welfare. Look for Dobbs to take up this one, too.

  3. “… especially now that the free traders…”
    Whats so “free” about it? Certainly, profits are made, big ones, by a few. But its hardly “free” for everyone else …..unless you consider a few, making profits today, costing jobs, and tax base tommorrow, and using vast amounts of tax $ to shore up/pimp/bribe the various thugocracies these “free” goods are made the “invisbible hand” we all hear so much about. Aint too invisible to me….you, maybe.

  4. $5 trillion trade debt?

  5. I wondered if anyone at Reason was ever going to give Dobbs a good pounding. The guy’s a complete nutter when it comes to protectionist tariff economics and immigration issues who has managed the most incredible trick a crazy guy can master: he can look you in the eye and SEEM sane.

    I only really started disliking Dobbs after I started reading about him at Reason and HnR. I know they said something bad about him sometime because they convinced me.

    You are correct about him having that seeming sane trick. I am embarrassed to admit that I was briefly taken in.

    Free trade and minimum wage laws are two subjects where I find Reason / HnR to be consistently persuasive.

  6. I never understood the trade deficit. Does the “trade debt” really just mean that people are selling us stuff cheap and using the profits to invest in US companies? The only other way I can figure that we could have this big of a trade imbalance is that we have extracted 5 trillion dollars worth of natural resources leaving us with “extra” value to buy stuff from overseas.

    An economists out there that can expalin this?

  7. $5 trillion trade debt?

    By some fantastical coincidence that’s exactly equal to the US’s $5 trillion investment surplus.

    Isn’t it awful living in a country that is so good at productivity that others want to invest $5 trillion in it? How does Lou Dobbs stand it?

  8. Isn’t Dobbs just following the previously tred path of Pat Buchanan?

    I’ll expect his political campaign to be announced next year.

    Dobbs leaves his newsreader position at CNN for a bit to do space.com, then returns as an opinion-soaked news celeb…using CNN to build up his protectionist monkey-force…all eyes on 08.

  9. Does the “trade debt” really just mean that people are selling us stuff cheap and using the profits to invest in US companies?

    For the most part. It is unfortunate that a couple hundred billion of those dollars per year are soaked up by the federal government deficit. But in general the trade deficit represents world confidence in the health, stability, and productivity of the American economy.

    Whining about the trade deficit is simply the latest incarnation of mercantilist thinking: following the dollar bills instead of following consumption and investment. Sadly, this mentality is completely pervasive throughout the media, with no comprehension of why it’s imagined to be a problem.

  10. But MikeP “$5 trillion trade debt” just sounds so BAD! How can you expect a demagogue to keep away? It’s a deficit and deficit = bad, right?

    Geez. I have a 101/102 understanding of economics and I know better than to get upset about that number, Despite it’s bigness and scariness.

  11. Maybe it’s just me, but Lou Dobbs bores the crap out of me. I won’t watch the man.

  12. Cafe Hayek’s Don Boudreaux has quite a few posts on the trade deficit and dispels many commnon myths…

  13. I second the recommendation of Cafe Hayek for explanations of why the trade deficit is not a bad thing.

  14. Karen — I didn’t know we were related!

    Actually, last Thanksgiving I found myself turning into “that relative” when my sister somehow got me ranting about school vouchers. Damn you, H&R!

  15. “That trade debt is rising faster than our national debt and is simply economically unsustainable, no matter what any faith-based economist would argue.”

    I have been an economics junkie since the mid 1980s, I cannot remember a time when people were not claiming that the U.S. trade deficit was unsustainable and going to be the ruin of the U.S. economy. Yet, here we are two booms, two small recessions and twenty years later and none of it has come to pass. As some point you stop trying to fit the data into the model and build a new model. The continued health and vibrancy of the U.S. economy, at some point, has to put an end to the “no healthy economy can run a trade deficit over a long period” talk.

  16. My favorite take on the trade deficit comes from looking at what the comparative advantages of the US are. The US has comparative advantages over most of the globe in technology, in research and development, in knowledge.

    But the greatest comparative advantage of the US is in productivity itself. The US is the most productive nation on the planet in worker-hours. Not only that, but the American economy is better at turning ideas into sellable goods and services than any other nation.

    So if you are a foreigner looking to buy the best product America has to offer, you buy American companies. It is unfortunate given that people worry about the trade deficit that what passes across the national border in this case are a bunch of pieces of paper. Those pieces of paper are not even neutral in the accounting. They are trade deficit.

  17. I was hoping Dobbsian was in reference to “the” Bob, Bob Dobbs.

    shucks.

    i think the ‘elitist’ schtick will run dry one day… i hope. Its easy to refute in discussion, but in 1-way media it can pass largely unremarked upon.

    i.e. ‘”if by elitists, you mean smart, hardworking, succeful people…”

  18. He’s being disingenuous. As a political philosophy, the opposite of populism isn’t elitism, it’s liberalism. Where a populist is concerned with manifesting the will of the majority, a liberal is concerned with protecting the rights of minorities.

    To be fair to Dobbs, however, calling someone else an elite while on television makes perfect sense within the framework of the populist philosophy. Because the People – not the individuals, the “organic whole” – cannot actually have a single, unified will, leaders are expected to behave as proxies for it. Thus, someone like Dobbs must indict elites on television; his status as an elite himself is not considered as important as his supposedly representing and embodying the interests and concerns of those he leads.

    Because the Left enjoys the word “populism” (with its class warfare overtones), it has frequently failed to identify some of its bitterest enemies as populists.

  19. “But the greatest comparative advantage of the US is in productivity itself. The US is the most productive nation on the planet in worker-hours.”

    No. “Comparative advantage” means “low opportunity cost”, not “low resource cost.” Even if the US labor force led the world in productivity in every single sector of the economy, we would still choose to import many things, to free up our labor pool for higher-value ventures.

  20. The mercantilist fallacy takes many forms, but it always boils down to “our” people should have the jobs because they are inherently more deserving than “those” people.

    BTW: Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. Spare a tear for us poor Canucks who are still working while you enjoy your football games and turkey.

  21. James Webb, Bernie Sanders, and Sherrod Brown wouldn’t back up if they parked their SUVs on Lou Dobbs. Dobbs is trying to make his crackpot xenophobia look respectable by conflating it with the most popular position to come out the last election.

    The people he refers to as “Lou Dobbs Democrats” are a lot closer to free traders like the Clintons than they are to the Dobbs/Buchanan position.

    You know why responsible conversations about immigration and port security keep getting dismissed as nativism and xenophobia, Lou? Because people like you make it so very easy to do so.

  22. And joe throws a MEAN curve ball!

    Nicely done.

    I’d have figured you for a Dobbs kind of guy so I’m pleasantly surprised that you’re here to bury him, not to praise him. But it’s a good thing, regardless!

  23. Even if the US labor force led the world in productivity in every single sector of the economy, we would still choose to import many things, to free up our labor pool for higher-value ventures.

    Of course. That is exactly implied by what I wrote. American companies know how to maximize productivity. Part of that is knowing what to do in the US and what to do elsewhere. That knowledge and execution contributes immensely to the productivity of the American economy that so attracts the world’s capital.

  24. Dear lord I hope that Dobbs doesn’t start the gay sex orgy on the air.

  25. The reason US manufacturing costs are high, and jobs and factories are exported elsewhere is that politicians of both parties loot and regulate any successfull business to death. All the fixed assets are taxed like crazy,profit is taxed, workers taxed, and products are taxed. On top of that the corporations are expected to send a lobbyist to DC to grease both parties with campaign cash so the do not gang up and prosecute the business—remember Microsoft? P T Barnum? The very scum you think should solve the problem caused it.

  26. A caution:
    I wish there was some hope for free trade under the Dems, but I’m not sanguine — witness the recent letter sent by Democratic leaders to the Bush Administration to renegotiate the Peru and Columbian free trade agreements to include even more labor mandates. Trade, to many Democrats, including Hillary, is a big stick to get their favored causes– labor, environment,etc. –included in agreements. Those act as non-tariff trade barriers.

  27. Ahh, Bill O’Reilly. It bears a revisit:

    “Ashley was now wearing only brief white panties. She had signaled her desire by removing her shirt and skirt, and by leaning back on the couch. She closed her eyes, concentrating on nothing but Shannon’s tongue and lips. He gently teased her by licking the areas around her most sensitive erogenous zone. Then he slipped her panties down her legs and, within seconds, his tongue was inside her, moving rapidly.”

    William O’Reilly, “Those Who Trespass”.

    As for Lou Dobbs, all I can say is… I don’t think he has the wit to match even O’Reilly-an prose.

  28. ” No. “Comparative advantage” means “low opportunity cost”, not “low resource cost.” Even if the US labor force led the world in productivity in every single sector of the economy, we would still choose to import many things, to free up our labor pool for higher-value ventures.”
    Uh, right. Like doing your laundry, flipping burgers, and making your lives cheap & comfortable…..oh, yeah- simultaneously with exporting skilled jobs to 3rd world kleptocracies (heaven forfend any mention be made of de facto forced labor in such ……havens of free enterprise- ) we IMPORT vast numbers of desperate folks from OTHER kleptocracies which ALSO find favor with “free marketeers”
    Ah, yes, the “invisible hand”. A miracle…….I expect next to start hearing here about the “Divine Right of Kings”…..
    Yup, planning for the future. Have such stout allies & friends as China, the Saudis, the loons who own Kuwait hold all our paper.
    Yup, clear thinking. I learn a lot here.

  29. I like to have Lou Dobbs around. He’s so f***in’ nuts that when someone brings up something they heard from him to support an argument, you can say, “He’s an idiot. Did you hear what he said about _______? Why would you listen to anything that man says?”

    Populist. The f***ing worst. Fascist is what they become.

  30. MUTT wrote:


    oh, yeah- simultaneously with exporting skilled jobs to 3rd world kleptocracies

    Which jobs? Many of those “skilled’ jobs actually involve repetitive steps. The fact that some tech jobs are being outsourced means that companies prefer to use the local talent for projects that require more mental work.


    We IMPORT vast numbers of desperate folks from OTHER kleptocracies which ALSO find favor with “free marketeers”

    And that is a bad thing because . . .????


    Ah, yes, the “invisible hand”. A miracle…….I expect next to start hearing here about the “Divine Right of Kings”

    Now you are talking out of pure ignorance.

  31. “…the $5 trillion in trade debt that the United States has built up through 30 consecutive years of trade deficits.”

    We didn’t *borrow* those Hitachi five-axis milling machines, we bought them.

  32. We produce what high end manufactured goods, other than a slice of the machine tool trade, & rapidly dwindling automotive. Last I looked we import most all everyday basic items. Which means the skills required to produce same vanish. Meanwhile, those jobs that cant be exported, like tin knocking, steam fitting, building- all the trades- are in a downward wage spiral because the jobs are snapped up by people fleeing our “democratic allies in the region”- various corrupt thug states, whose incompetant rulers use the US as both a source of military power, economic “investment”, and a release valve for thier own citizens who might otherwise string them up by thier own guts.
    You can call it whatever you like, but its all just euphism for very short sighted, short term profit taking, by a very narrow segment of the overall society. Hence my comment about “divine rights of kings”.
    If you profit, now, good for you. But ask yourself…..well, you wont.
    Theories are swell, but thats all they are. If you think the interests that profit from this racket have any allegiance to the US- well, thats laughable. Its allegiance is to profit, & power. Nothing sacred about it, or immutable, other than short sighted greed is a constant in human history. If you place what TR referred to as “malfactors of great wealth” on a higher plane than the millions who feed thier families thru honest labor, well, there you go.
    Its that “knowing the price of everything & the value of nothing” situation thats the hallmark of my country, today.
    Im not likely to stand by and watch the country run into the ground by corporate thugs, no matter how heavenly the I Got Mine chorus sings its praises.
    But, whatever. As the debt mounts, & the usual pack of idiots digs the ditch deeper, some time along the way our paper wont be worth much. As it stands now, the US is so beholden to such charming outfits as China & the Saudi’s I think were gonna get ours- or rather, youll get yours, draggin the rest of us along for the ride- soon enough.
    As it stands now, merely threatening to prefer Euros over dollars is enough to precipitate an invasion. Thatll only go so far- or do you still think this clusterfuck was about Saddam being 45 minutes from a launch?
    Nah- I dont see the upside of massive debt to hostile countries as a good thing.
    Guess I shoulda went to Kollidge…..then I could push paper around for a living, and skim profit without actually producing wealth…..

  33. If Toyota sells a $25,000 car in the U.S., is that entire sale considered an import?

    Because I think about 80% of the value of any Japanese car goes to American workers making the parts and assembling the final product.

  34. Even as someone more sympatico with the economic populists than the Big Giant Heads at Reason, I think the trade deficit is a sideshow. Of course we buy more from the rest of the world than they buy from us. We’re richer. I’m supposed to worry because all of those Americans who bought Accords instead of Chevy Citations didn’t have to spend the next eight years sinking their paychecks into repairs?

    If you notice, the Dobbs/Buchanan types are always going on about the evils of imported goods and the trade deficit, while the John Edwards/Jim Webb types do not. This is because the former are economic nationalists, a right-wing ideology that posits an eternal struggle between different nations, and considers trade to be a front in a war. The latter are liberals, whose concerns about global trade and finance exist only to the extent that they harm vulnerable people by causing dislocations and a race to the bottom in labor and environmental standards.

    The concerns of people like John Tester can be satisfied through an adequate safety net and investment in transitioning people and regions who get the short of the “creative destruction” stick so they can succeed in the future. Brown-skinned people making money off of American purchases and employment – whether here or abroad – are not the problem to the Democrats Dobbs is trying to claim as his own.

    Dobbs and Buchanan, on the other hand, are going to look at every dollar paid to an immigrant or sent overseas as a dollar that somebody in America should be getting instead on principle, and the people harmed by international trade are merely poster children for their quasi-fascist struggle. To them, America’s strength isn’t based on how well its people are doing, but by our power compared to other nations.

    They are not the same thing at all.

  35. Oh, OK, joe, if you say so.

  36. HA! love the picture. I think the caption should read:
    ?Usted desea las fritadas con eso?

  37. Yes Lou Dobbs is bad but he never has to wipe the spittle off his chin like O’Reily when he gets going. I find O’Reily a tiresome socialist bore (ie his rants against big oil) but I watch him once and a while for sheer entertainment value.

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