Romney’s Economic Advisers Pretend to Support Free Trade

Written by Simon Lester, Trade Policy Analyst for the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

Governor Romney’s economic advisers (Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw, John Taylor, Kevin Hassett) have a short post about his economic plan.  In it, they sort of talk about trade issues:

Advancing international trade is another part of the plan. A recent study by the International Trade Commission concluded that reducing intellectual property violations [in] China could produce about 2 million jobs in the United States.  While that is, of course, an estimate, Governor Romney has made reducing barriers to trade with China []  a primary focus of his trade opening policy, and this advancement of trade clearly would be a large net positive for the successful idea-intensive firms that drive economic growth.

What’s important to note here is that these prominent, well-respected economists are not talking about free trade, despite their best efforts to make it seem like they are.  Free trade means reducing protectionism, both at home and abroad.  That means removing protectionist barriers to imports and exports, resulting in specialization of production and greater efficiency, among other things.  But that’s not what they are saying here.  Instead, they want to “advance” international trade by increasing exports to China, mainly through forcing China to strengthen intellectual property laws and enforcement.

Now, I’m not going to argue that there should be no intellectual property protection.  But I do question the notion that U.S. intellectual property standards are precisely where they should be, and that the rest of the world should do exactly what we do.  That may in fact be the case; however, nobody ever bothers trying to show it. And if I had to guess, I would say we probably over-protect intellectual property in a number of areas.

But the larger point here is that we shouldn’t let political advisers confuse the issues with deceptive rhetoric.  Free traders are not interested in “advancing” international trade by simply pushing for more exports.  If we were, we would support export subsidies.  Real free traders don’t!  What we want instead is the removal of protectionist barriers to trade (“ours” and “theirs”):  Tariffs, quotas, many subsidies, to name a few.

(To be fair, later they talk vaguely about how President Obama is not doing enough to promote trade agreements.  However, they never say anything positive about actual free trade, which is a bit strange because they all probably do support free trade.)

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