Thursday, October 4, 2007

Free Trade/Antiglobalization... Friendship/Genocide... Whatever


A few dispiriting reminders today that it’s hard to get a clear message across in politics:

•The Republican Party is (was?) ostensibly the more free-market of the two major parties, but Wall Street Journal reports that about two-thirds of Republican voters now say they think free trade (by which they essentially mean foreign trade) is harmful. To his credit, Giuliani, they note, continues to argue succinctly and forcefully that we should be engaged, as he put it, in production, not protectionism. This is an important reminder that as awful as politicians are (and a Gail Collins column today in the New York Times playfully called the GOP prez candidates “the Legion of Doom,” which is pretty awful, as Generation Xers will recall), there is something even more awful, though populists of all parties don’t like to hear it: the masses.

•The Journal article also notes that Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican who has made headlines by raising about as much money for his presidential campaign as McCain this quarter, may be getting some of his swelling support not from radical laissez-faire advocates like himself but from those aforementioned anti-free-traders, who mistakenly take his opposition to free trade agreements (part of his broad opposition to all manner of treaties, alliances, and foreign entanglements) to mean an opposition to free trade generally. That means the most market-oriented candidate — who I would still very much love to see carry the day — may be getting a boost from some of the least market-oriented donors and potential voters.

(But hey, if by some miracle this all leads to a “trade yes, international governmental elites no” consensus across the usual political divides, I’ll be delighted and will look forward to hanging out with my new papier-mache-puppet-wielding hippie-protester friends from Europe, Latin America, and colleges across America — somehow I don’t think things are going to go anywhere near that smoothly, though, nor do I think Paul’s isolationist supporters understand him.)

•Drudge linked to an article about left-wing and right-wing secessionists having a joint conference in Tennessee — and I’m not the only Ron Paul supporter I know who was amused and somewhat pleased by the event, since I’d love to see everyone secede from the Federal government, ideally. But these two lonely factions of secessionists want to form, respectively, a socialist paradise and a white-ethnic homeland (according to their critics) and may therefore, as Jacob Levy notes, be good evidence for the James Madison argument that yoking us all together into a federal system is a good way to temper extremists, unpopular (and boring) as that view is in modern libertarian circles. Jacob should write a book about that local/federal tension within liberalism, broadly defined (that still wouldn’t explain who’s mayor of Atlantic City, though).

I should add that the leader of the leftist secessionist group is none other than Kirkpatrick Sale, an avowed Luddite — I’m not just calling him that — who was notorious, prior to this, for ending his speeches by smashing a computer with a hammer. I saw him speak once, though he skipped the hammer routine. As with the green anarchists I’ve mentioned before on this blog, he sees a connection, logically enough, between keeping things local and resisting modernization, not so unlike the Amish — or the “crunchy conservatives,” about whom I’ll say more in this month’s Book Selection of the Month entry.

•As if the Wall Street Journal didn’t depress me enough with its GOP vs. free trade story, its editorial board pooh-poohed the Armenian Holocaust in an odd piece today, saying we shouldn’t harp on the issue for fear of offending “our Turkish friends,” who still forbid their citizens to publicly acknowledge that genocide. I was sufficiently disturbed that I dashed off a letter of objection, though sometimes you have to wonder whether it’s worth the effort.

Are the powers that be headed toward capitalism or protectionism, wimpy political correctness or brutal acceptance of genocide, dangerous populism or dangerous elitism? Maybe all of the above? Even if you’re obsessed with such questions, it’s hard to gauge these things or even know what metrics to use. All so mushy. All so muddled. So frustrating is the life of the ideologue-spectator.

P.S. We did get an answer to the question “Is the Ivy League Superior?” last night, though — the audience voted no, despite some impressive gains in support for the “yes” position over the course of the debate (we’re now polling the audience before and after). Whether the crowd was a bunch of self-hating cosmopolitan elitists or just self-affirming proletarian autodidacts was, however, thoroughly ambiguous (nice to have them all there regardless). Again, the chronicle of my own love-hate relationship with Brown starts on this blog in two weeks.

1 comment:

Glen said...

Keep in mind, there is a difference between *revenue* tariffs (10-20%, designed to fund government, a la 19th century), and *protective* tariffs (5000%, designed to halt purchases of foreign products). Supporters of the former–like me–are very much *pro*-import, because you need imports to pay the taxes. (Using revenue tariffs, for most of the 19th century, we didn’t even need an income tax if I’m not mistaken.)

Arguing that those who support revenue tariffs don’t want foreign products to be purchased is like saying that those who support state sales taxes don’t want people buying products. On the contrary, both groups want *tons* of stuff purchased to fund the government. We can reduce other forms of taxation that way.

Free traders and protectionists both agree on one major point–that the federal government should derive no revenue from the purchase of foreign products, the former because that means that tariffs are nonzero percent and the latter because that would mean someone bought a foreign product.

But if a 15% revenue tariff meant no income tax, I would happily take it. (And, yes, if reduced domestic taxation resulted in some more breathing space for domestic manufacturers, that would be nice as well.) But as for your statement “…now say they think free trade (by which they essentially mean foreign trade) is harmful” I will assure you, don’t assume that everyone opposed to 0% tariffs doesn’t want foreign products to be bought–quite the contrary, my friend, quite the contrary!