The "Free Trade" Debate and the Lessons of Iraq
For whatever inexplicable reason, a number of hard-line free traders within the center-left sphere have decided that now is the time to launch a "vigorous" intra-party debate regarding the merits of globalization and free trade (see here, here, and here). Of course, as Chris Bowers astutely points out, "all of the rumblings seem to be coming from Democrats in favor of unregulated trade." Thus, I think it's fair to say that their goal isn't to provoke a healthy internal debate, but rather to launch a pre-emptive strike to silence the ever-growing chorus of doubters within the Democratic party. Anyway, here's my spiel against the liberal free-traders; of course, vigorous and honest debate/disagreement is encouraged:
Chris briefly mentions the run-up to the Iraq war, and this is what I want to focus on. One of the things that drove me nuts about the "liberal hawks" who supported the Iraq war is that they were completely oblivious to the fact that it wasn't their war. While people like Paul Berman would bleat on and on about the "liberal" value of removing a tyrant like Hussein and establishing a democracy, they ignored (whether naively or willfully) the far less noble reasons which motivated the actual architects of the war to topple Saddam. By the same token, the liberal hawks completely discounted the risks, which many naysayers pointed out, of creating a power vacuum in Iraq. The last eighteen months have tragically demonstrated just how misguided the idealistic "liberal" case for war really was.
Similarly, the liberal free-marketeers, particularly DeLong and Yglesias, have an unmistakably idealistic conception of free trade, which drives their unyielding and (dare I say it?) dogmatic adherence to free trade homilies. As with the liberal hawks, the liberal free trade advocates utterly fail to comprehend that globalization on the ground (as opposed to inside the classrooms and centrist think tanks) is nowhere near as progressive or socially minded as they wish it to be. In other words, it's not their free trade in practice.
But don't take my word for it. The recent spate of exposes from former movers and shakers in the globalization game (most notably Confessions of an Economic Hit Man and Globalization and its Discontents) amply demonstrate that the reality is far different from the ideal to which outside observers like DeLong, Baer, and Yglesias aspire. I'm all in favor of a good-faith debate with the liberal advocates for free trade and globalization. But as long as they reflexively vilify their intra-party adversaries as either protectionists (a la the hated Dick Gephardt), or muddle-headed leftist utopians, they'll end up in the same credibility-deficient purgatory where liberal hawks like Paul Berman and Ken Pollack now find themselves. And that would be a damn shame, right?