Hillary Joins the Protectionists

Clinton’s reversal on free trade is politically opportunistic.

It’s likely most Americans haven’t read the Hillary Clinton autobiography “Hard Choices,” but in it she discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership then being negotiated. She wrote, “It’s safe to say the TPP won’t be perfect — no deal negotiated among a dozen countries ever will be — but its higher standards, if implemented and enforced, should benefit American businesses and workers.” (By the way, the paperback version omits this section.) Ever the shameless opportunist, Clinton decided that competing with the protectionism that both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump espouse meant she had to join them in opposing the TPP.

However, Mercatus Center research fellow Veronique de Rugy analyzes Hillary’s (and Trump’s) position and asks the obvious: “Is she lying now or was she lying before?”

De Rugy adds, “Either way, the reality is that [Hillary Clinton’s] instincts on pretty much every policy issue are incorrect. She wants the government to grow and she wants to smother the labor market to death with new mandates and tell entrepreneurs how to run their companies and pay their workers. She wants more regulations and she wants the government to have a say in what the innovations of the future should be. She wants a one-size-fits-all labor market and opposes the sharing economy. She is a drug warrior and ‘the candidate of the war machine.’ She is also in favor of the worst crony programs out there, like the Ex-Im Bank.”

Others on the free trade side are chipping in with criticism of Hillary’s shifting position. “If Congress or the next president rejects TPP, China will be ready to fill the vacuum with its own brand of economic leadership,” warns fellow Mercatus Center scholar Daniel Griswold. Since China is not a party to the TPP, it could create its own pact with several of the TPP nations.

The GOP contenders were all over the map on TPP — and certainly were skeptical about giving Barack Obama fast-track trade authority. As it was being discussed last year, Donald Trump capitalized on the perception that Rust Belt factory workers were going to fare even worse than they have over the last two decades — a regional downturn Trump was quick to blame on NAFTA and other trade agreements. Trump instead has favored one-on-one pacts, noting, “I would make individual deals with individual countries and currency manipulation would be a pre-eminent part of every deal because that’s the chief weapon that other countries … use to take away our businesses and our jobs.” It’s a position where he has been more or less consistent throughout the campaign.

But because Hillary has been open to TPP in the past — she once called it the “gold standard” of trade agreements — some Republicans have come out for her simply based on the belief she may take an agreement, perhaps with some face-saving amendment. Furthermore, revered economist Walter E. Williams argues on these pages that, while thousands of manufacturing jobs were indeed lost over the last few decades, America is better off because those job losses indicate economic progress. As a comparison, Williams notes that 90 percent of the workforce were farmers back in 1790, but less than 3 percent today. Yet farmers are vastly more productive thanks to technological improvements.

So while the top two candidates argue about who can best protect unionized American factory jobs, it’s worth remembering that trade is a two-way street, and protectionism by the United States will certainly be matched by those we desire to export to. All Hillary Clinton has done by her flipping and flopping on the question of free trade is to guarantee one side will be completely alienated once she finally makes up her mind.

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