The Corner

Economy & Business

The Curious Case of Obama, Free Trade, and Us

Off and on, since 2009, I’ve said, “Obama has driven the Right crazy.” He sometimes pushes us into positions that, but for him, we would never be in.

A case in point: trade. I have no idea why Obama supports free trade. (I discuss this in Impromptus today.) I think I can tell you why Bill Clinton supported NAFTA: an electoral calculation. But Obama? His elections are behind him. Even the final midterm one!

And yet he supports free trade. Go figure. This position would not seem to accord with his broader worldview.

But back to the Right, back to us. Most Republicans have remembered who they are, and why they support free trade. But some of them have let Obama cloud their vision, I think.

If Obama came out for a cut in the capital-gains tax, some of us would say, “Hey, wait a minute: What’s the catch?” If he came out for school choice, we’d reconsider the merits of school choice.

Does Obama like hot-fudge sundaes? If so, I may have to lay off them (for a day).

This attitude is only natural, but it has to be guarded against, I think. And I address myself as much as anyone else.

In Impromptus, I quote Phil Gramm — always a pleasurable thing to do. He once said to Bill Buckley that he never brought up free trade on the campaign trail. Why? Gramm had been an economics professor, and he was a fervent advocate of free trade. Why did he keep mum about the issue while campaigning?

The way he put it was, “Almost all people benefit from free trade, and they don’t know it. A few people are harmed by free trade — and they all know it.”

This is an important political truth. If you go into the store and find a shirt for cheap, you never say, “Hurray for free trade! Blessings on Adam Smith’s name.” You pay for the shirt and go on your way. If you’re laid off from the textile mill — you know damn well where the blame lies.

Anyway, I’ve written glibly about an important topic or two, but maybe this is permissible in blogging.

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