Saturday, February 27, 2010

Protectionist Campaigning for Dummies

National Journal's CongressDaily reports that Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) will be sponsoring legislation to withdraw the United States from NAFTA:
Populist sentiment in the House against free trade is about to reach a boiling point, as Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., readies a bill to withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The measure would be the first of its kind since the mid-1990s, just after President Bill Clinton pushed NAFTA through a reluctant House. Many Democrats blame Clinton and NAFTA for their loss of control of Congress the following year in 1994. And while it has no chance of becoming law, Taylor's bill is a clear shot across President Obama's bow as the White House attempts to figure out its overseas economic engagement strategy....

Taylor said members need to ask themselves two questions: How many jobs have been gained in their districts as a result of NAFTA, and how many have been lost. Asked why he's introducing the bill now, Taylor replied: "There's never a right time for anything. It's like asking a girl to marry you."

Taylor is planning to formally introduce the bill after getting a few more signatures. He is circulating a "Dear Colleague" with original co-sponsors, Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich. He's snagged 14 co-sponsors so far, including a second Republican, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland.

Taylor's letter shows a graph demonstrating a 29 percent decline in U.S. manufacturing employment since 1993, or a loss of nearly 5 million jobs. "NAFTA discourages investment in U.S. manufacturing facilities and accelerates the erosion of our industrial base," the letter states.

"Thousands of people in my district have lost their jobs because of trade," Taylor said in an interview. "I didn't vote for it; we tried it; it didn't work, and now it's time to admit that."...

A Blue Dog Coalition member from the reddest of districts, Taylor is conservative on social issues but very much an economic liberal. He has voted against every free trade deal since arriving in Congress in 1990, which is rare for a member from a coastal district, let alone one with three ports, at Gulfport, Biloxi and Pascagoula.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took 67 percent of his district's vote in 2008, but Taylor has never been in trouble: his lowest percentage of the vote was 60 percent, in the 1994 GOP landslide.

Earlier this week, Taylor became the latest House member to sign onto a bill from Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, that calls for a new trade policy including a lengthy list of labor, environment, investment and consumer protection standards for trade deals. Several major pacts, including NAFTA, would face renegotiation under that bill, although it would not go so far as Taylor's two-page bill to simply scrap NAFTA. In fact, Taylor's aggressive approach surprised some in the trade community who had been focused on Michaud's milder effort. Michaud nonetheless is among Taylor's early co-sponsors.
Cato's Dan Griswold ably dismantled Taylor's nonsensical assertions that NAFTA is responsible for US economic woes, including manufacturing job losses, and I've already debunked the classic protectionist myth about trade and manufacturing many times.  So there's no need to rehash any of that today.  And, as the CongressDaily article makes clear, this legislation has absolutely "no chance of becoming law." 

Nevertheless, Taylor's anti-NAFTA legislation remains noteworthy because it provides us with a perfect example of the cynical politics of protectionism.  Although Taylor comes from a very red district in Mississippi, he doesn't appear to be facing a serious challenge in 2010.  Yet his anti-NAFTA legislation provides him with an easy way to widely promote - without spending a dime of campaign cash - his anti-trade stance and its false "support" about manufacturing job losses.  And because free trade and NAFTA don't poll well, the free press that Taylor will get from the legislation will probably shore up some support in his district, completely free of charge.  Nevermind that Taylor comes from a Mississippi port district that contains several multinational corporations (who fund his campaign, by the way), and it's therefore certain that many of his constituents' jobs completely depend on trade.  I mean, why let reality get in the way of scoring free and easy political points, right?  And who cares if the "stats" that Taylor's peddling are complete BS, and that his anti-trade demagoguery could, if ever enacted, seriously hurt the people he represents.  We're talking free campaign advertising, baby!  Let 'er rip!


Meanwhile, other politicians who face tougher campaign battles in 2010 can sign onto Taylor's legislation and use it as a simple soundbite once election season starts.  The commercial practically writes itself: "I've co-sponsored legislation to get us out of NAFTA, while my opponent supports free trade policies that have destroyed millions of good paying American jobs.  Oh, and he hates puppies, babies and apple pie."  Ok, maybe that last part won't be in there, but you can bet the house that the rest will be.  And as we've already seen from two recent special elections (NY-23 and the Mass. Senate election), trade demagoguery, including a reliance on standard protectionist myths about manufacturing, jobs, enforcement and the trade deficit, is a central part of the Democratic Party's basic campaign strategy.  And why not?  Protectionism ensures the strong support of domestic labor unions and other anti-trade groups, and (again) free trade isn't a big winner in the polls.  Truth be damned, folks.  This is a political no-brainer.

Cynical?  Sure.  Probable?  You bet.  Pathetic?  Undoubtedly.

Given these clear political dynamics, and the fact that Democrats figure to get absolutely pummeled in November's elections, we all should expect a lot more congressional anti-trade foolishness, replete with protectionist myth-mongering, in the coming weeks and months.  Congressman Taylor's just a little ahead of the curve.


Colin said...

Don Boudreaux has a good response:

Scott Lincicome said...


Anonymous said...

I just found this blog a few days ago.

Great stuff! Keep it up.

Researcher said...

Taylor is senior Member of the House Armed Services Committee and has seen all the evidence that you deny of the economic inefficiency and the threat to national security from the rapid decline of our manufacturing workforce and industrial base. It took years to build MRAPs to save the lives of soldiers and Marines from roadside bombs in Iraq because we no longer have the industrial capacity to respond quickly to a surge in demand. The cost to taxpayers was very high because we did not have the domestic capacity for the parts and supplies for efficient manufacture of thousands of new vehicles. The United States is losing the ability to be self sufficient when necessary and that is a significant loss.
The jobs data is very clear. Since we went all-in for free trade, whenever we have a recession (2000-01, 2008-09) we lose millions of jobs in the U.S. and most of the manufacturing jobs do not come back after the economy improves. Companies do not invest in new plants or substantial expansion of existing plants except in industries where buy-American policies require it, such as defense production, or where we have informal protectionist agreements, such as the voluntary deal with Japan automakers that encourages them to make their cheaper cars in the U.S.

Researcher said...

Why did you delete my comment? Can't handle the truth?

Scott Lincicome said...

My response to Researcher's comments is available here: