Friday, March 25, 2011

Selectively Quoting His Way to Protectionist Victory

Everyone's favorite protectionist caricature/blogger, Ian Fletcher, has published a new screed breathlessly questioning how we could possibly be considering the US-Korea FTA when its predecessor, the NAFTA, was such a giant, job-killing failure.  It's chock-full of the usual protectionist myths about NAFTA and other FTAs that I've discussed here many, many times (especially here and here), so I'm not going to waste your (or my) time going through all the NAFTA and trade deficit mythology that Fletcher's interminably long post brings up.  I'm also not going to again mention the unseriousness of any anti-trade essay that cites to the long-debunked work of the union-run-and-union-funded Economic Policy Institute, which erroneously claims that US trade agreements like NAFTA have caused bilateral trade deficits, which in turn have caused millions of US job-losses.

However, in scanning Fletcher's latest masterwork, something noteworthy did catch my eye: the complete lack of hyperlinks to the author's many references.  Indeed, except for one link to another Fletcher piece on the KORUS, his anti-NAFTA anthology doesn't contain a single link to supporting evidence, despite the fact that he cites lots of (bad) stats and has several (allegedly) supporting quotes.  One of those quotes comes from the Sane Paul Krugman of Yesteryear (i.e., back when he was a really good commentator on trade economics and policy instead of a really bad commentator on, well, everything else):
The agreement was sold under false pretences. Over the protests of most economists, the Clinton Administration chose to promote NAFTA as a jobs-creation program. Based on little more than guesswork, a few economists argued that NAFTA would boost our trade surplus with Mexico, and thus produce a net gain in jobs. With utterly spurious precision, the administration settled on a figure of 200,000 jobs created--and this became the core of the NAFTA sales pitch.
Fletcher uses this un-linked Krugman quote as evidence that NAFTA was a failure, and to further support his earlier EPI-backed claim that NAFTA, through its alleged exacerbation of the US-Mexico trade deficit, actually cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs.  But there's only one problem: if you Google around and find the Krugman piece that Fletcher quotes, the very next passage argues strongly against Fletcher's thesis that a trade deficit (or surplus) can dramatically and directly affect domestic employment:
The overall number of U.S. jobs, however, was never going to be noticeably affected by swings in our trade balance with Mexico. Our economy employs more than 120 million workers; it has added more than 8 million jobs since 1992. Job growth has slowed since 1994, but not because those 200,000 export-related jobs failed to materialize (the real culprit is the Federal Reserve's interest rate policies).
In other words: the US-Mexico trade deficit (or surplus), no matter how big it gets, simply cannot have a significant impact on overall US employment.  (A view shared by most reputable economists, by the way.)

Gee, I wonder why Fletcher didn't link to that Krugman article and include the entire quote in his new piece?  Oh, riiiight, because he said two paragraphs earlier that, according to EPI, the widening US-Mexico trade deficit cost 760,000 US jobs, and that Krugman quote would, like, totally deflate his awesome NAFTA/trade deficit demagoguery.

Well, friends, there's an easy and obvious solution to that inconvenient dilemma: crop the quote!

Of course, anyone who's paying attention already knew that all of this NAFTA nonsense was, well, just that.  But I'd say that Fletcher's selective quotation speaks volumes about the depth of his protectionist playbook.  I mean, Ian, buddy, if you can't even include the very next paragraph from your big "gotcha" quote, then, well, maybe you need to sit the next play out, Champ.

And the one after that.

(p.s. Fletcher's alleged "Department of Labor" stats are also complete bunk.)

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