Editorial: No more trade tirades


It says something about how Donald Trump has lowered political standards that the tirade on trade he delivered Tuesday was supposed to calm nerves, showing that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee could talk policy and stick to a script.

But the script was a horrid mess of misinformation, exaggeration and populist grievance-mongering. The danger is not just that voters might buy Trump's pernicious pitch. It is also that he might push presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has already cynically flipped on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, further into anti-trade irresponsibility, making it even harder for her to advance a sound agenda should she win the presidency.

"Our politicians took away from the people their means of making a living and supporting their families," Trump declared, through "a policy of globalization, moving our jobs, our wealth and our factories to Mexico and overseas." He repeated his wild notion that the North American Free Trade Agreement is responsible for widespread economic hardship, along with the bizarre idea that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a grave threat. Independent analysis finds that NAFTA has benefited Mexico and the United States and has not had a major impact on U.S. employment. The TPP, meanwhile, is more about liberalizing trade in services and harmonizing regulations than about lowering barriers protecting U.S. industries. Trump's claim that admitting China into the World Trade Organization caused manufacturing job losses is more significant, but other factors, such as automation, have been much more important in changing the nature of work in the United States.

Trump topped it all off with a dangerous promise: that he will "bring our jobs back" by renegotiating or tearing up trade deals. This follows from the increasingly pervasive but simplistic claim that the economy is "rigged." If so, the thinking goes, simply un-rig it. In fact, trade barriers of the sort Trump favors rig economies in favor of special interests who benefit from coddling protections at the expense of everyone else: Prices rise, and business opportunities fall. The reality is that Trump cannot bring back jobs lost to technological change, nor can he wish away the thick webs of suppliers and manufacturers that have developed among nations. Attempting to do so would send immediate shocks to the U.S. and global economies in pursuit of illusory benefits.

There is a chance that Trump understands these points and would not do what he has promised — it is impossible to know what a serial liar really believes or intends. What is more certain is that Clinton knows better and is attempting not to let on. Pressed on trade by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, during the primaries, Clinton swung against the TPP, a trade agreement she helped strike. But she left herself some room to negotiate changes and reembrace the pact once in office. Trump called her out on this strategy Tuesday. "Ask Hillary if she is willing to withdraw from the TPP her first day in office and unconditionally rule out its passage in any form," he said.

She should say "no." The cause of global economic integration, which has driven up living standards and taken 70 years to progress as far as it has, deserves more than Clinton's weak-kneed defense. For the sake of the country she might govern, not to mention her credibility, Clinton must resist the urge to surrender any further to rank populism.

~ The Washington Post


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