Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Another Quick Note on Depth Versus Breadth

And if we are going to talk about the whole matter of depth versus breadth (and, perhaps, right wing versus left wing populism) this peice is a good place to start.  It is no secret that both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are pitching to much the same set of constituents -- the white working class that has seen the good-paying blue collar jobs of yesteryear vanish.  Trump would bring them back by halting immigration (legal and illegal), while Sanders would offer government benefits to ease the hardship, but both agree on at least one measure to restore those good paying jobs -- protectionism. Both agree that a lot of those good paying jobs have gone overseas and been taken by Chinese workers making a fraction of what their American counterparts make. The hardship to the American working class has been very real.

Still, Vox takes Sanders to task:
"You have to have standards," the senator said. "And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States." 
From Sanders's point of view, this makes sense. He has recognized, correctly, that freer trade with countries like China has hurt a subset of American workers (while benefiting others). 
But there's one big problem, according to development economists I spoke to: Limiting trade with low-wage countries as severely as Sanders wants to would hurt the very poorest people on Earth. A lot. 
Free trade is one of the best tools we have for fighting extreme poverty. If Sanders wins, and is serious about implementing his trade agenda as outlined in the NYDN interview and elsewhere, he will impoverish millions of already-poor people.
Note that this argument is meaningless if made to Trump and his supporters.  They don't care.  If his policies hurt people in other countries, that is the other countries' lookout, not ours.  The President of the United States should worry about U.S. interests, not anyone else's.

That is a common refrain I see among Trump supporters in blog threads.  For the first time, Trump will take our interests into account in setting immigration policy instead of the immigrants'.  I certainly don't think that is accurate.  Our immigration policy has always taken our own interest into account.  But it has made some attempt to balance our interests against the immigrants'.  What Trump supporters are really saying is not that Trump will take our interests into account, but that they will leave anyone else's out.  They may see this as a distinction without a difference, but we liberals (i.e., people who prefer breadth to depth) consider the difference very important.  I am reminded of the late, great columnist Sydney J. Harris, who always said that people who say that charity should begin at home really mean that it should end there.  Once again, I am not sure that people who prefer depth to breadth are aware of the distinction.  But we are.

But Bernie Sanders and his followers are liberals (or at least purport to be).  Hence, unlike Trump, Sanders cannot adopt a strong anti-immigration policy, much as many Trump supporters would like him to.  To a liberal, Trump's immigration policy looks very much like scapegoating a powerless minority, and our morality does not allow that.  But Sanders' protectionism, though it does inflame anger against scapegoats in the way that Trump does, really does scapegoat a vulnerable population in the sense that it makes the most vulnerable in the world bear the costs of his policies.  To a Sanders supporter, this is a serious matter.  To a Trump supporter, it is meaningless.

I should add that I think a lot of liberal opponents of trade don't fully comprehend the implications of their views.  It was much the same during the 1990's and uproars over the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Liberals wanted to link trade to labor and environmental standards; conservatives did not.  And it is true (as columnist Ellen Goodman said at the time) that there are serious problems to allowing multinational corporations to define global trade according to their own interest.  The environment is also global after all, and labor can be trans-national.  We need basic standards to avoid a race to the bottom.  But expecting all countries to have "roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States" is utterly unrealistic and asking the impossible.  To say that you don't want to throw people in China out of work, only for them to have wages comparable to ours is the equivalent of saying that you want everyone to have a pony.  Painful trade-offs exist and must be faced.  Sanders' approach, in all cases has been one of denial.

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