Free Trade

Biden Set To Entrench Trumpist Protectionism With 'Buy American' Order

Biden is seeking unity, but bipartisan agreement on bad policy is nothing to cheer for.

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President Joe Biden took office with a promise to bridge America's deep political divides—but, in practice, that might look a lot like entrenching some of the mistakes of the Trump administration.

Not all of them, of course. In a flurry of Inauguration Day activity, Biden has already taken steps to undo some of his predecessor's terrible immigration policies and signaled his intention to rejoin some global institutions that Trump disdained. When it comes to trade policy, however, the new president's inclination toward openness and free exchange is less pronounced—and Trumpist protectionism is likely to remain in force, at least in some limited ways.

As part of Biden's "First Ten Days" agenda, the White House is expected to issue an executive order "to strengthen Buy American provisions so the future of America is made in America," according to a memo from Ron Klain, Biden's chief of staff. The specifics of Biden's "Buy American" plan remain sketchy for now, but his campaign promised an overhaul of government procurement rules to require a larger share of federal purchasing comes from domestic suppliers—and to cut the number of waivers granted to allow foreign purchasing.

In touting the plan shortly after the election, Biden promised to go even further. "No government contracts will be given to companies that don't make their products in America," he told The Washington Post.

While it may be politically expedient, that kind of protectionism would force taxpayers to pay higher costs for government projects and would likely mean that fewer projects get funded in the first place. It would disrupt cross-border supply chains that provide much of what American governments need to keep sewer systems running and roads paved.

Indeed, businesses in Canada are already bracing for the Biden administration to double down on the economic nationalism of the Trump years, according to The Canadian Press. And because manufacturing supply chains in North America are deeply integrated, businesses on both sides of the border would be disrupted if the White House prioritizes goods made exclusively in America.

"Canada, Mexico, and the United States don't trade with each other anymore—we build things together," Dennis Darby, president and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, a trade association, said in a statement. "Excluding each other from our respective government procurement markets could seriously hurt our precarious economic recovery."

Darby's right that it makes little sense to view the United States, Canada, and Mexico through a nationalist lens—indeed, even the generally protectionist Trump administration admitted as much by signing a new continent-spanning trade deal. The same logic applies to trade that crosses other international borders.

Biden's likely to announce his "Buy American" plan on Monday, and you can expect it to be sold as a bipartisan effort to protect the American working class, which has supposedly been gutted by decades of increasing global trade. "It should be uncontroversial that U.S. global trade policies in the past two decades have significantly harmed millions of Americans and their communities," wrote Henry Olsen, a conservative columnist and senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, in a November op-ed for The Washington Post that urged conservatives to support Biden's "Buy American" agenda.

But that's hardly uncontroversial. Free trade has caused low-end manufacturing jobs to shift overseas, sure, but working-class Americans are better off today than they were 20 or 30 years ago.

More importantly, there's little reason to believe that limiting government procurement will undo the macroeconomic trends of the past few decades. Like with Trump's tariffs, Biden's "Buy American" plan will cause economic disruptions and impose unnecessary new costs on the margins of global supply chains, but will likely accomplish little more than giving politicians a reason to feel good about themselves.

"These political impulses are not only economically ruinous, but incompatible with the Biden administration's ubiquitous rhetoric about internationalism, U.S. "leadership," and reengagement with allies," writes Dan Ikenson, director of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

Trump succeeded in gutting many of the pro-trade elements within the Republican Party, and Biden is unlikely to face much political pushback from Democrats as he entrenches Trump's protectionist tendencies—indeed, some Democrats spent the past two years campaigning for more protectionism, not less. But bipartisan agreement on bad policy is nothing to cheer for.

NEXT: Will Democrats Embrace the Imperial Presidency Now That Their Guy Is in Charge?

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  1. See, when Trump did it, it was white nationalism at it’s worst.
    Now Biden is doing it, it is pro-union job creation.

    Do try to keep up – – – –

    1. Fuck the Unions!

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    2. What if unions are white nationalist organizations?

      (Before this gets Poe’s Lawed, that’s tongue in cheek.)

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    3. I called this out prior to the election- Biden effectively learned from Hillary’s loss, that if he wanted to retain enough blue-collar labor votes, he needed to embrace protectionism. He did, and it got him c.f. the Steelworkers guild endorsement.

      It was odd that Reason didn’t call out that Biden was doubling down on Trump’s protectionism at the time. Indeed, multiple times Reason continued to run articles critical of Trump’s tariffs without pointing out that Biden promised more of the same. Oh well, I guess.

      1. “It was odd that Reason didn’t call out that Biden”

        On just about anything.

    4. Ohio is holding American consumers hostage.

  2. It isn’t Trump’s fault that Biden doesn’t reverse course.

    Let us know when Biden finally becomes responsible for his own choices, okay?

    1. P.S. Voters are also responsible for their own choices, and they’re ultimately to blame for Biden’s clearly predictable ones.

      Anyone who voted to let Biden win because they thought Biden was better than Trump on trade is a fucking moron.

    2. How many times did you say “Obama did it first!” when Reason criticized Trump on immigration?

      1. about as many times as you cried about him bringing up Obama

        pretty close to 1 to 1 I’d wager

        1. Intruder alert, ID thief detected!

          1. AHAHAHAH YOU GOT BANNED AHAHAHAHAHAJA

        2. You know you’re living in someones head when they make not one, but multiple fake accounts impersonating you. LMAO

          1. AHAHAHAH yes I AM in your head ahahahahahaj

          2. But you’re just one of multiple fake accounts.

            1. Hush he’s pretending he’s not super butthurt that his sock is burned

              1. Oh I know, it’s just fun to see DOL/WK reuse the “in your head thing” he constantly retreats to when he openly admits he calls himself White Knight because Tulpa pissed him off.

                1. “he calls himself White Knight ”

                  Not anymore he doesn’t that name got banned ahahahhahaha

      2. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

      3. I think that for Ken and others who are more pro-immigration in one way or another, it was more to point out the hypocrisy of the people who overlooked it when Obama was doing it than a justification for Trump doing it.

        1. Did they overlook it? Or is that just the Trumpista narrative. You know, Reason never criticized anyone until Trump was elected.

          1. Half the commentariat left in 2016. A large part of that was because Reason’s coverage of Trump was so bad, and those commenters weren’t even pro-Trump!

            In 2016, ENB was touting the allegations of a porn star who did gangbang and bukkake videos–she was suing Trump for traumatizing her with a kiss on the cheek.

            https://reason.com/2016/10/22/donald-trump-accused-of-offering-porn-st/

            In 2016, they were covering Trump campaign speeches like they were the Nuremberg rallies. They were accusing Trump of encouraging his followers to rough up protesters like brown shirts, and they were giving serious coverage to Michelle Fields’ accusations that Trump campaign staff had roughed her up.

            As slanted against Trump as Reason’s coverage was in 2020, it was arguably much worse in 2016.

            Surely, you don’t mean to suggest that Reason’s coverage of Trump has been objective over the last four years, do you?

            1. Surely, you don’t mean to suggest that Reason’s coverage of Trump has been objective over the last four years, do you?

              I wouldn’t say objective, but I never thought it was as bad as his followers did. Of course I’m not emotionally invested in the guy either.

              1. “Of course I’m not emotionally invested in the guy either”

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              2. Why lie?

              3. “…Of course I’m not emotionally invested in the guy either.”

                TDS isn’t an “investment”, it’s a disease; you are diseased.

          2. I don’t think Reason overlooked the Obama policies. But the mainstream media sure didn’t call attention to it and acted like Trump was the first president ever to detain illegal immigrants.

            1. Nor did the media have access to leakers for any and all Obama conversations, as they did for Trump.
              The lap-dog media ‘reported’ what Obo told them to report rather than the distorted claims of anonymous leakers.

              1. Since at least half the “leaks” of Trump conversations appear to be journalists just making stuff up, I suspect that’s not true. They just didn’t feel like printing ‘anonymous’ fantasies about Obama.

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  3. “Biden’s likely to announce his “Buy American” plan on Monday, and you can expect it to be sold as a bipartisan effort to protect the American working class, which has supposedly been gutted by decades of increasing global trade.”

    The “Buy American” platform will disintegrate in the same span of time that it will take Xi Jinping to make a phone call threatening Biden and his administration with retributive sanctions.

    Reason, of course, will be right there on the sidelines, cheerleading.

    1. You gotta love the ‘bipartisan effort’ schtick. Words don’t mean anything anymore.

      For instance, earlier in 2020, I saw headlines accusing Republicans of blocking a ‘bipartisan effort’ to pass the new, bigger, bloated-er, Covid-Relief package. How does one party block a truly bipartisan effort? Wouldn’t it by nature have broad support on both sides?

      1. Well, there was this one Republican who told a couple of Democrats that he might support it if they changed a few things, so that makes it bipartisan.

    2. The phone call won’t threaten retributive sanctions; it will threaten the release of certain financial records.

      1. Or possibly videos…

    3. It’s “Buy America except where doing so would protect national security”, actually.

      Biden Rescinds Trump Order Banning Chinese Communist Involvement In US Power Grid

      That we totally want the Chicoms to have a backdoor into. But cheap knick-knacks? Buy those here.

  4. Why is this article labeled under ‘FREE TRADE’? It should be under the sub-headline ‘NATIONALISM’! And, can any American actually afford buying anything made in America in the grand scheme of things? These are not questions by the way!

    1. Correct. They are steaming piles of lefty shit.

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  5. The problem with those real income and cpi measurements is that it looks at a basket of goods. One type of goods in that basket getting very cheap can make it look like a person in the US has more purchasing power, but that can be offset by another type of goods getting much more expensive.

    Sure, the average or weighted average can move favorably because we can buy 65″ Tv’s for $250 now, but that doesn’t matter much or as much when housing and educations have gotten much, much more expensive.

    The CPI does not weight home ownership over rent, or distinguish the two at all, for instance. So if the typical poor person or low earner could buy a house in 1985, but can only rent the same house today, that has no direct bearing on the CPI and real income measurement.

    Which is all to say that the case that low earners are better off with their jobs exported to mexico is not so clear cut as this article would make it seem.

    1. If you want the price changes to be equal you can do one of two things
      1) have the Gov stop regulating and controlling education.
      2) have the Gov control the electronics market as much as they control education

      The first would cause education cost to drop and quality to rise, but it would mean the Gov can’t act as totalitarian dictators.
      The second would raise the cost of electronics while lowering the quality. And the Gov would be able to use the regulation to pick winners and looser they see fit.

      Knowing you, you probably prefer number 2

    2. Sure, the average or weighted average can move favorably because we can buy 65″ Tv’s for $250 now, but that doesn’t matter much or as much when housing and educations have gotten much, much more expensive.

      It also doesn’t matter when the American consumer is unemployed altogether.

      1. “Which is all to say that the case that low earners are better off with their jobs exported to mexico is not so clear cut as this article would make it seem.”

        I agree.

  6. OK, this is actually a fair critique of Biden. Whenever he does anything that’s not in the financial interests of billionaires, I want Charles Koch’s employees at Reason Magazine to point it out. Like if he tries to raise the minimum wage — which Mr. Koch wants to abolish — that deserves a mildly critical column or two.

    #InDefenseOfBillionaires

  7. The “Buy American” plan is pure graft. It has exactly the same effect as tariffs. But it has the bonus of a ton of onerous paperwork that has to be produced when things like structural steel forms are not even available from US suppliers.

    Of course, there are middlemen available to take care of all that for you for a ‘reasonable’ fee. Politicians kids need jobs too, you know.

    1. Only applies to federal spending, right? If so, makes it a little less broad in application than tariffs.

      1. BZZZZT! Wrong. Any project that takes federal money takes on the requirement. Every state DOT, every infrastructure project, it even creeps in to city and county projects. For example, I saw it in every water treatment plant project as they all involve funds from the EPA.

        And, as I mentioned, you have to go through multiple rounds of justification when a product isn’t produced in the US.

        1. Ah, well that is rather broad then.

    2. Add to that the inefficiencies that are produced. Can you imagine the time that will be spent by companies and the government arguing over whether something was produced in the US?

      1. Can you imagine the time that will be spent by companies and the government arguing

        Do people think this is something new? We don’t have to imagine. We can remember.

        “The Buy American Act (“BAA”, originally 41 U.S.C. §§ 10a – 10d, now 41 U.S.C. §§ 8301 – 8305) passed in 1933 by Congress and signed by President Hoover on his last full day in office (March 3, 1933)”

  8. BWAHAHAHA! SleepyJoe is Trump .

  9. Biden is seeking unity? Hahahahahahaha

    1. Oh, he is, but you have to agree with him and his demented staff to ‘get unified’.

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  11. Breaking News! Globalism is dead. Not even Joe Biden can fix it.

  12. It’s not nationalism when we do it!

  13. So no federal iphones?
    No Nikes in the congressional gym?
    No NBA broadcasts?
    No Disney movies in the White House censored to Chinese rules?
    (and, oh by the way, we need a new, non-racist term for the temporary residence of the president)

  14. Boehm already said he was voting for Biden. Enjoy!

  15. Oh, please. The “Buy American” plan will work as well as Gerald Ford’s WIN buttons worked to end inflation. There are so many things not domestically produced, not competitively domestically produced, or not domestically produced in sufficient quantities that Biden is going to have to be granting so many waivers left and right as to make the scheme a joke. Except for the “granting waivers” part – you’re going to have to convince Joe Biden that you’re worthy of being granted a waiver first and Joe’s going to be relying on the advice of his son Hunter as to whether or not you’re worthy. If you know what I mean. I think there’s a name for people who deliberately put roadblocks in your way just to make you pay for the privilege of having the roadblocks removed.

    1. “…The “Buy American” plan will work as well as Gerald Ford’s WIN buttons worked to end inflation…”

      Worked for me! I just refused to buy things (and got real hungry).

  16. Except for the “granting waivers” part

    Considering that part of the process to obtain the waiver is getting documentation from American producers admitting that they can’t or won’t produce the product, yeah, it can be difficult. Plus, exactly like Trump’s tariffs, the administration gets to pick and choose what products go on the list.

    Where I was involved in civil engineering projects, the products we had to procure under ‘Buy American’ were anything made with steel from rebar (which you can get domestically) to specialty giant pipe you have to order from Germany. There is real risk too, considering you are ordering 6-8 months in advance and could potentially run afoul of a snag in the application months after you placed your order.

  17. Yup the Buy American requirement is a lot like the tariffs in that there’s a whole lot of opportunities for graft. Quelle surprise.

  18. “Instead of protectionism, we should call it destructionism. It destroys jobs, weakens our industries, harms exports, costs billions of dollars to consumers, and damages our overall economy.” ~ Ronald Reagan

    People suffer from such tunnel vision and in depth, via time, as well as in width. Trump was a lifelong Democrat, until the instant before his escalator ride.

    “Witless Ape Rides Escalator”
    https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/06/witless-ape-rides-escalator-kevin-d-williamson/

    Protectionism was always a Democrat position. Biden seems to have learned too little from Trump’s many blunders.

    1. So the “Witless Ape” has flown away;

      “Bye, Donald Trump — Witless Ape Rides Helicopter”
      https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/01/witless-ape-rides-helicopter/

      but too many of his worst dusty ideas, swept up from the floors of his decades of parties with Democrat cronies, may soil our politics for years. Musty, dusty, East Coast, septuagenarian, politicians are too alike. Trump insanely bad, and Biden sanely bad; but both predictably bad to any without tunnel vision.

      1. Nope, the witless ape posted directly above this post.

  19. Awe — Boehm is a Globalist… It all makes sense now.

    The U.S. Constitution gave the federal government authority to regulate ALL national trade. For the simple reason they have no governmental ability to ensure JUSTICE globally. The exception being it wasn’t UP-TO any President to willy-nilly enact it.

    I’d much rather have national trade restriction than join a Globalist Government that literally ‘invades’ the USA. So count me out on your big globalist plans to “erase the borders”..

  20. Anyone else notice Reason is so wrapped up with TDS they cannot even write an article anymore without throwing the name “Trumpist Protectionism” at it..

  21. Trump’s protectionism will be made worse by Biden’s policies of more regulations, more powerful labor unions, higher corporate taxes, higher wages, and forcing ‘diversity’ hiring in corporations. This will effectively cause inflation of the dollar and reduced international sales.

    The Biden administration will have to resort to higher tariffs and other means to reduce the ability of Americans to buy cheaper foreign goods. Other countries will retaliate.

    Biden and his team are dumber than Trump and his team. They will screw up the country even worse. They will also take over management of the election process in order to ensure that they stay in power.

  22. t was odd that Reason didn’t call out that Biden was doubling down on Trump’s protectionism at the time. Indeed, multiple times Reason continued to run articles

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