Down With Free Trade

Supporters of cheap-labor “free trade” policy like to argue that the cost-savings of manufacturers paying Chinese or Cambodian factory wages instead of American factory wages will put money in the pocket of American workers. This theory works perfectly in a seminal economic text by David Ricardo, considerably less so in the real world. Since the 1970s, the wages of the bottom 90% of American workers have not budged.

Supporters of free trade policies like to argue that those lower wages in Asian factory towns represent a gain economic efficiency, resulting in higher overall growth. But governments like the one in Cambodia frequently use violence to suppress union organizing, negotiations for higher wages and safer working conditions, and labor-oriented politics. This gives the employer a great deal of power over the workers in those so-called negotiations, causing downward pressure on wages. To the extent those wages are lower than market rate because of state violence – which is to say, a huge extent in many of our would-be TPP partners – the wage savings are actually anti-efficiency. But, then, the people who laud free trade never do seem to incorporate the idea of below-market wages from power imbalances between individuals workers and wealthy corporations into their thinking. Many people who devote themselves to denouncing government intervention on behalf of working people or environmental quality turn a blind eye to the most brutal anti-worker oppression by governments in supplier nations, even as they define the shifting of more economic capacity to such conditions as a blow for freedom.

The reason that last point matters is not because of the hypocrisy charge, but because it goes directly to the heart of the argument for “free trade.” At its Ricardian core, neoliberal trade theory’s claim that the lower wages overseas are a gain in economic efficiency – hey, an input went down! You need to take Econ 101! – is used to justify policies that grease the skids for giant multinational corporations to offshore American jobs. These are the policies that have devastated many Americans communities and driven down the wages of American workers. There is supposed to be a gain to GDP growth that justifies this cost, but the “free trade” advocates’ uncomplicated belief is built on a studious denial of an important economic reality – that if Hun Sen’s soldiers stand behind each garment worker in a factory and beat them if they try to stage a walk-out during wage negotiations, the lower wages that result from crushing the labor movement aren’t a gain in economic efficiency at all, but are actually a loss. In addition to the human cost.

You can see the consequences of the drag on American wages in this in the sluggish GDP growth since we began down this path under Reagan. Cheap-labor economic policy is literally eating this country alive from the inside. The American economy depends on the great American middle class and their collective consumer spending, and we spent decades pursuing a policy that has driven down there wages. Henry Ford understood 100 years ago that American workers needed to earn enough to buy his cars or he would not sell enough cars to justify mass production. The same is true today, and the free trade gospel’s promised efficiency returns have not come close to making up the difference, largely because they aren’t actually efficiency returns at all. In 2017, the American worker needs a good job at a good wage; not another 17 cents off undershirts from Pakistan. Enough!


And I Welcome Their Hatred

So now that Bernie Sanders has torn into Donald Trump’s Dickensian throwback of a budget, he is taking heated attacks from the right. And I couldn’t be happier.

I feel the same way I did in 2003, when conservatives got over their little pretense of not hating New York after 9/11. I couldn’t stand their phony, self-congratulatory expressions of faux sympathy back then, and it was a positive relief when they went back to their John Rocker-esque true colors. It’s been the same thing with conservatives and Bernie, pretending they respect him as an independent truth-teller and expressing their backhanded sympathy just so they can use us to take shots at Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Now that he’s back to being the commie atheist who wants to give handouts to lazy hippies and people of color while refusing to show the proper respect to our wealthy corporate betters, it’s like a weight has been taken off.

$15 Minimum Wage

A majority of the Senate Democrats are co-sponsoring the $15 minimum wage bill. At 30 sponsors and cosponsors, support has increased significantly since 2015, when Bernie Sanders was able to attract five cosponsors for his bill.

It seems to me that those six 2015 cosponsors make a good shortlist for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination:

Bernie Sanders, VT

Elizabeth Warren, MA

Ed Markey, MA

Sherrod Brown, OH

Dick Durbin, IL

Kirsten Gillibrand, NY

Donald Trump Wanders Into the Vicinity of Right

I like Donald Trump’s formulation that the suicide bomber in Manchester was a “loser.” The traditional ritualistic public insult of a suicide terrorist is “coward,” and frankly, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Bill Clinton called the U.S.S. Cole bombers cowards; seems to me that it takes some huervos the putter a little rubble boat full of explosives up to a U.S. Navy destroyer and blow yourself to kingdom come.

Losers, on the other hand, is demonstrably, consistently true of these attackers. These suicide terrorists in the West are not straight-A students of a religious bent from middle class families; they tend to be petty criminals with shoddy work histories and histories of quite irreligious types of violence. Life is cheap, their own lives most of all, and they wrap themselves in some religion-themed cause they looked up on the internet to give their miserable suicides the gloss of importance.


Name Villains

Graham Vyse at the New Republic puts his finger on why Corey Booker is a non-starter for 2020:

Booker has long preached unity and transcendence. Progressives may want him to “name villains,” but he told Salon in 2013, I don’t believe in wholesale vilification of any industry in the United States.” (He’s talking about the Wall Street banks! – ed.) The title of his book last year says it all: United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good.

The barriers to an economically just society are not technocratic. The growing concentration of wealth at the top of our society is the outcome of a power struggle between us and them. While there are win-win solutions to even many highly-divisive issues, there is nothing to do about the billionaire class (including but not exclusive to the one currently in the White House) other than to fight them and beat them, as they have been beating the 99%, in the political arena.

The next Democratic presidential nominee needs to understand that there are malefactors of great wealth, in Theodore Roosevelt’s great phrase, at work in our political system, using their clout to aggrandize themselves. The job of the next Democratic nominee for POTUS will be to convincingly name the villains, and promise to fight them for us. Not invite them to tea and cookies to work out something acceptable to everyone. Corey Booker is not the person for the job.

Who Amongst Us…?

The always public-spirited Hillary Clinton has founded a new nonprofit organization to fund groups that promote political engagement. That seem a fine and noble cause to undertake.

The name of the new organization is Onward Together.

Just give that a minute to sink in. Onward Together. That’s the name of Hillary Clinton’s new political organization: Onward Together.

Maybe John Kerry came up with that.

Once again, promoting political engagement is a wonderful thing.

On Offers to Join the Resistance

After he lost the 2004 presidential race, John Kerry went back to what he was doing before, stayed relatively quiet, and waited until a Democrat was elected president, at which point he was offered high-level jobs by an administration that was grateful to have his knowledge, competence, tirelessness, and expertise.

That is an excellent model for a losing presidential candidate to follow. Yep. That sure is a fine model for a losing presidential candidate to follow.