Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is Tim Pawlenty Gunning to Be the GOP's Protectionist Candidate in 2012?

Last week, I lamented that GOP Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty's mercantilist statements on free trade were somewhat contradictory and really mundane.  His latest statements on trade, however, are more troubling and have him increasingly looking like the GOP's protectionist for 2012 (there's always at least one).

If you were (sane) like me, you didn't spend last night glued to CNN to watch the GOP Presidential Debate in New Hampshire.  But a quick search of the debate transcript (yes, I know, I need to rescind my previous allegation of sanity) reveals that the only comments on trade came from Pawlenty in response to a question on how the candidates "plan on returning manufacturing jobs to the United States":
PAWLENTY: There's a number of things we need to do. Restore manufacturing in this country. And I grew up if in a meat packing town. I grew up in a manufacturing town. I was in a union for six or seven years.

I understand what it's like to see the blue-collar communities and the struggles that they've had when manufacturing leaves. So I've seen that firsthand. But number one, we've got to have fair trade, and what's going on right now is not fair.

I'm for a fair and open trade but I'm not for being stupid and I'm not for being a chump. And we have individuals and organizations and countries around this world who are not following the rules when it comes to fair trade. We need a stronger president and somebody who's going to take on those issues.
Sigh.  I've already dismantled the "fair trade" and "everybody cheats" myths several times on this blog, so I won't do so again here.  And, frankly, Pawlenty's statements here are almost identical to the tough-guy chest-thumping that he's done in the past about free trade (as I noted last week), so his statements last night, while underwhelming, aren't really that disturbing or noteworthy.

What is disturbing and noteworthy, however, is that Pawlenty, when asked about manufacturing job losses, immediately resorted to scapegoating free trade as the primary driver of those losses.  And, by the way, he was the only GOP hopeful to do so.  Ron Paul (unsurprisingly) targeted US monetary policy; Michele Bachmann (quite rightly) attacked onerous US tax and regulatory policies; Rick Santorum also took a swipe at tax policy.  None of them blamed trade policy for manufacturing job losses.

Except Governor Pawlenty.

Of course, this stance is utter poppycock:  not only are most American manufacturing job losses the result of things like technology gains and changing consumer tastes, but they also have been happening for decades and are in no way unique to the United States.  Moreover, a lot of American manufacturers depend on trade (imports and exports) in order to remain globally competitive and/or to find new customers abroad.  So, if anything, our politicians should cite free trade policy as a solution to, not cause of, US industrial job-losses.  Thus, it's quite troubling that, when asked about those job losses, Tim Pawlenty's first thought was to blame trade - a strategy, by the way, that's right out of the protectionist playbook.  The unions do it; pandering Democratic politicians do it; and the professional anti-traders do it.

So why is a GOP presidential candidate - especially one who just recently championed free market fiscal policies that directly contradict such an anti-trade stance - doing it too?

I honestly have no idea.

Fortunately for Pawlenty, his trade statements received big praise from one pundit.  Unfortunately, it was MSNBC's Ed Schultz (start at the 3:30 mark):

Err, congrats Governor.


Simon Lester said...

Hey Scott,

Is this really different than what any GOP candidate says? Ron Paul excepted, of course.


Scott Lincicome said...

It was last night, Simon. Bachmann and Santorum (and Paul) each had a perfect chance to blame trade for US manufacturing job losses, and they passed. T-Paw did not. Clearly, this is a talking point for him - and apparently high on the list. That's not good.

And, as I said in the post, it's not just the "fair trade" talking point - it's the context. He wasn't asked about trade; he was asked abt manufacturing jobs. And his #1 response was "fair trade" and "foreign cheaters." That's a left/union talking point, not one of a fiscal conservative (who should know better).

(BTW, Romney's also a staunch free trader, so I doubt he would've responded that way, although he didn't get a chance.)

Simon Lester said...

I don't know. Check this out from Romney the other day:

VAN SUSTEREN: The IMF is predicting that China's economy is going to surpass our own in the year 2016. First of all, how does -- what does that mean to us? What does that mean to the average American? How do we feel that? And secondly, why is China able to surpass us?
ROMNEY: China is able to surpass us in part because over last couple of decades, American policy has been so relaxed towards China. We've allowed them to manipulate their currency to make our products more expensive than theirs. And that has allowed them to come into our country and replace a lot of jobs in this country. …
We, frankly, have been turning a blind eye to China's policies with regards to our economy for far too long, and America has to get serious about saying, We want to make America the most attractive place for business in the world, not China. And the consequence of not doing that would be potentially seeing our standard of living decline and over time, seeing China build a military that could rival any in the world.
VAN SUSTEREN: How do we actually, though, turn that around? China is our bank. We owe them, you know -- you know, so much money that it's almost breathtaking. They hold more of our debt than any other nation. You know, what do we actually do to sort of turn that around so that they don't take our jobs, so that our dollars aren't going there to get their cheaper goods?
… you have to make it very clear that to trade with America on the most favored basis that you have to honor our laws. You have to allow your currency to float. You have to make sure that the products that come into the U.S. have not been, if you will, pirated through technology that's been stolen by various companies in China. We're going to have to be serious with China about enforcing our laws, enforcing agreements that are fair and free and not giving them the kind of free ride that they've had so far.


Scott Lincicome said...

Ugh. Hadn't seen that. Thanks for sharing.