Bryan Caplan  

I Have Conditions

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If you don't like telling people No, a convenient alternative is setting conditions you know other people won't accept. Then the impasse is their fault, you see. Take free trade, for example:

...Democrats do not flat-out oppose lower barriers to trade, or flat-out endorse explicitly protectionist measures. Instead, their views are usually couched in terms of environmental concerns and workers’ rights. Congressional Democrats, for instance, will claim that they are not against free trade; they just insist on provisos in free-trade agreements that no sovereign nation could possibly accept.
That's John Steele Gordon, writing in Commentary. Well-said.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
John Thacker writes:

If you don't like telling people No, a convenient alternative is setting conditions you know other people won't accept. Then the impasse is their fault, you see.

Right. So what am I to think when Ron Paul votes against every trade deal that would lower barriers and tariffs on net, because he insists on a perfect bill that the rest of Congress would never accept?

Sure, Ron Paul says he voted against CAFTA because it wasn't perfect. The result of that is the vote was an exact tie. Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) was willing to vote for it if stupid protectionist bits coming close to negating the sock portions of CAFTA were adopted. Guess what happened?

CAFTA wasn't perfect, but it would have been better than no CAFTA. And it would have been better with no stupid sock clause.

liberty writes:

How is it free trade when the governments agree on lots of provisos?

TGGP writes:

How often do bills that decrease interference on the part of the federal government pass Congress? Didn't Ronald Reagan say he was going to shrink the government, but expanded it? Wasn't it the same with Thatcher? An actual free trade bill could just unilaterally drop restrictions in a few sentences. The actual agreements are generally hundreds of pages and chock-full of more government interference. I do not trust them.

cameron m writes:
they just insist on provisos in free-trade agreements that no sovereign nation could possibly accept.e

You mean no sovereign nation like Jordan?

The United States-Jordan Free Trade Agreement included trade-related environmental and labor provisions.

I admit i have not heard much about this agreement in a while, but it was a start and i would argue an example of what the Democrats would like free trade agreements to look like.

Alex J. writes:

It is possible that the Jordanian leadership agreed to the terms because they wanted to implement these policies anyway, but couldn't do so in the normal fashion because of domestic political concerns.

(I have no knowledge of the specifics of the Jordanian trade deal. I'm just speaking hypothetically.)

Chuck writes:

I think if you want to make a point instead of an assertion, you could have provided a few examples of conditions that "no sovereign nation could possibly accept."

Are we talking conditions like permitting workers to organize into unions? Could a sovereign nation accept that as part of a free trade agreement?

To me that is the root of the free trade issue.

I'm happy to trade when our partner has advantages that we don't like an abundant labor supply or access to natural resources that we don't.

But when their 'competitive advantage' is a labor pool that is so powerless they can be treated like animals and slaves, that's not a 'competitive advantage' I want to benefit from.

And let's be honest - in lots of cases, we'd be ashamed if we knew how the people making our shoes and clothes were treated.

Garrett Schmitt writes:

If Fair Traders think they could better take care of foreigners than foreign governments (as they imply when they attempt to change foreign legal structures with trade agreements), they could offer bounties to foreign immigrants. Then these persons whom Fair Traders assert are being oppressed could take advantage of the environmental and labor regimes Fair Traders point to as hurting the competitive advantage of labor in rich countries.

This alternative Fair Traders use, that of using trade restrictions and concessions as sticks and carrots in forcing changes in the laws of foreign countries, is the worst policy for helping oppressed foreigners short of violent overthrow of the government. By conditioning economic transactions on political concerns, proposing a Fair Trade agreement is the same thing as threatening sanctions.

Garrett Schmitt writes:

...which is all to say I agree with Bryan that Democrats have forged a fine coalition of internationalist environmentalists and human-rights supporters ("Baptists") with protectionist trade unionists and jingoists ("Bootleggers"). I love political economy!

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