Friday, June 12, 2015

Excommunication, Really?

On Twitter and elsewhere in the conservosphere, you sometimes see righties arguing or implying that, of course, there are no serious conservative reasons to oppose Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  For the record, I do not have in mind here measured conservative defenses of TPA/TPP (for instance, this piece by Matt Lewis or these remarks by the editors at National Review*).  There are valid arguments on behalf of TPA/TPP, and conservatives should not be afraid to make them.

However, there are also valid arguments against TPA and TPP from a conservative perspective--and these arguments go well beyond how much we can trust Barack Obama.  So I think it premature for some on the right to try to excommunicate TPA/TPP dissenters from serious conservatism.

First of all, it is unclear whether unequivocal "free trade" is a sine qua non of conservatism.  If conservatives want to say that, they will have to cast figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge, and Ronald Reagan out of the conservative narrative.  Lincoln and Coolidge, after all, were major proponents of tariffs, and, while Reagan talked about opening up trade, he also took steps that many conservatives today would decry as "protectionist" (and even decried then as "protectionist").  As Alan Tonelson relates, Reagan did things like impose quotas on imported cars from Japan.  That's hardly free trade.

Secondly (and perhaps more pressingly), it is far from clear that TPP will actually promote free trade.  As I've suggested before, much of what goes by "free trade" in contemporary political discussions isn't actually free trade but instead the creation of internationally administered systems of managed trade.  Now, perhaps those internationally administered systems of managed trade are helpful and worth advancing, but they are certainly not free trade.

Moreover, these administrative systems set up international bodies that can have influence over U.S. domestic policy.  For instance, the U.S. House voted this week to no longer require meat producers to disclose the country of origin for meat.  One major motivation for this was the threat of retaliatory tariffs enabled by the World Trade Organization.  As the Wall Street Journal reports:
Wednesday’s 300-131 vote repealing the country-of-origin labels for meat follows a series of rulings by the World Trade Organization finding the labeling discriminates against animals imported from Canada and Mexico.
Canada and Mexico won a final WTO ruling in May, and are now seeking retaliatory actions valued at a combined $3.7 billion a year. Canada has threatened trade restrictions on a range of U.S. products, including meat, wine, chocolate, jewelry and furniture.
Maybe this repeal of country-of-origins labels is a good thing; maybe it isn't.  But the fact remains that an international body (one not elected by or accountable to the U.S. voter) helped usher along this change in domestic policy.  The establishment of international bodies by so-called "free trade" agreements could very legitimately concern small-government conservatives.  These bodies might at times undermine the principles of the market and of national, republican governance.

Again, there are plausible arguments on behalf of TPP and TPA--but it would be a mistake to write off all conservative critics of these measures as charlatans and cranks.  I respect many of the proponents and many of the opponents of these measures, and it's better to have a respectful conversation.

(*Disclosure: I contribute to National Review.)


  1. When has it ever been conservative to "buy a pig in a poke"?

    Anyone supporting the TPA/TPP/TAA is buying a pig in a poke ... and possibly MUCH WORSE.

    When has it ever been conservative to "have to vote FOR it to find out what is in it?"

    Hypocrites who denounced Pelosi's statement are just a VILE as her and are NOT conservatives.

    Let's be honest and just call them "slaves to crony capitalists".

  2. "But the fact remains that an international body (one not elected by or accountable to the U.S. voter) helped usher along this change in domestic policy."

    Fair enough but that doesn't make the trade agreements a bad thing nor does it mean these countries wouldn't attempt to influence our government in other ways, which is how it seems to be presented. It's a false dychotomy. Agreeing to a formal format for filing grievances does not eliminate the grievances from taking form in an informal format, such as lobbying POTUS or Congress directly via ambassadors as is frequently done.

    So this whole line of attack on TPA by some on the right on the basis that such trade agreements give other countries undue influence is a non-sequitur.

    Disclosure: I'm a dyed in the wool conservative. I'm probably as red as they come and I believe that trade helps our economy. It is excessive regulation, bad tax policy and generally the creation of an unhealthy business climate domestically that's largely responsible for destroying American jobs.

  3. It's a trap.

    It is the most obvious political trap in all recent political memory. I told you so!!!!