Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Krugman Torn On Trade

Paul Krugman has become one of the few semi-egalitarian voices on economic affairs in the major media (his New York Times colleague Bob Herbert is another, along with various business journalists at that paper like the great Louis Uchitelle). But Krugman has long been a fairly orthodox free trader in the Robert Reich mold. He's worried about the social consequences of lost manufacturing jobs and global wage competition, and yet he abhors traditional government remedies. The latter always get called "protectionism," which all enlightened people naturally hate. If you support some kind of tariff or trade restriction, you must belong to a union.

Krugman's piece on Monday shows how completely Democrats have accepted Republican free trade policy even when it paralyzes their brains. There is a "dark side" to globalization, he writes, but we can't go back to "old-fashioned protectionism." NAFTA hasn't worked for Mexico, but we can't just get rid of it. After a bit of this handwringing, he flips it around a little. We do need "labor standards," but actually these don't work.

Floundering, he settles for a nice shot at the Bush Administration, which is his speciality:
The Bush administration, by the way, opposed labor standards, not because it wanted to keep imports cheap, but because it was afraid that America would end up being forced to improve its own labor policies. So the inclusion of these standards in the deal represents a real victory for workers.
That was fun. But what what do the Democrats do when they stop attacking Bush policy as the work of selfish, inefficient crooks? In Krugman's case - nothing. He winds up changing the subject. Let's move on from trade, he says: helping workers should start with universal healthcare.

True enough. But Democrats are going to have to cough up most of the Reaganite salt-water they've swallowed over the past 25 years before they will do anything of the kind. If they could talk themselves into managing market forces - i.e. HMOs - enough to provide universal healthcare, maybe they could figure out how to keep trade from sitting on average wages for the next 25 years just like it has done for the last.

Pound a Dem on the back and see what comes up.

No comments: