The incoming Obama Administration looks set to take a hammer to trade liberalization. In doing so, it promises to make a bad economic situation much, much worse.
The hammer blows come in the form of the appointment of Jared Bernstein as the Vice President-elect’s economic adviser and Xavier Becerra’s expected appointment as United States Trade Representative. Bernstein is an opponent of free trade and while Becerra has voted for some trade agreements, he now regrets a number of those votes and promises to fight efforts towards achieving greater trade liberalization.
These appointments would be disastrous. For much of the past year, America’s export market was one of the few bright spots of the economy and now, the Obama Administration seems to be bent on curtailing it significantly. I have, of course, no evidence with which to claim that the Obama Administration is considering yet another manifestation of the Smoot-Hawley tariff but we all remember that curtailing trade was one of the catastrophic mistakes that made the last Depression so Great. Personnel is policy, so I have to think that the appointments of Bernstein and Becerra are specifically meant to slow down trade liberalization at a point in time when we need more free trade agreements, more exports, a greater selection of goods available to American consumers so that they can be convinced to spend and with their spending, get the economy off its back. If this is a good idea, I hate to find out what Team Obama thinks a bad idea is.
What makes the appointments of Bernstein and Becerra especially worrisome is the possibility that–as Brother Francis points out–the Sino-American economic relationship may already be veering towards trade war territory. It would be nice to think that Team Obama would select people dedicated towards combating this dangerous trend.
Apparently, however, places at the table must be made for protectionists, which is like making places at the table for flat-earthers. About the best we can hope for is that Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Peter Orszag will shunt Bernstein and Becerra off to the side long enough to frustrate them and cause them to want to leave the Obama Administration so that they can spend more time with their families. Incidentally, I often heard it said that we shouldn’t appoint conservatives to government because they don’t like government. I always thought that a silly argument but if we are going to accept that line of reasoning, why should we appoint Xavier Becerra as United States Trade Representative when he has made it clear he really doesn’t like trade?