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Lou Dobbs, Protectionist

In April – when June Arunga, Johan Norberg, Tom Palmer, and I took on Lou Dobbs’s protectionist follies on Stossel – Dobbs called me “an idiot.”  Here’s the back-stage conversation that prompted Mr. Dobbs’s harsh assessment of my mental faculties:

LOU DOBBS (introducing himself to me): “Hi.  Lou Dobbs.  Nice to meet you.”

DON BOUDREAUX (shaking Dobbs’s hand): “Hi.  Don Boudreaux.  Nice to meet you.”

LD: “So, we’re here to debate the merits of free trade.  But who opposes free trade?”

DB (a bit taken aback): “Well, you do.”

LD: “What makes you say that?”

DB: “I read your book.”

LD (very loudly, so that everyone in the backstage green room heard him): “You’re an idiot!”

Dobbs went on to deny, both on air and back stage, that he’s a protectionist.  He denied being a protectionist also during his recent debate with Tom Palmer on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Freedom Watch.  And he denies being a protectionist in his 2004 book Exporting America (which I reviewed here).

You judge.  Below are some quotations from Dobb’s Exporting America; italicized passages indicate my own added emphases:

Page 38: “I am neither a free trader nor a protectionist.”

p. 50 “The central question is this: Should American workers be forced to compete for their jobs – providing goods and services to the American market – with workers in countries like India and China who make a fraction of U.S. wages?  I believe the answer is ‘absolutely not.'”

p. 51: “I’d certainly prefer that our government look to the risks of one-sided ‘free trade’ agreements that have resulted in a flood of imports into the United States…..

“Fifteen years ago Congress mandated economic as well as environmental impact statements on domestic policies but failed to extend the requirement for such research into foreign policy and international trade.  In my opinion, Congress should do so, and soon.”

p. 55:  Dobbs ask rhetorically: “Or is it in our national interest not to spend those hundreds of billions of dollars on imports, but rather to preserve our national manufacturing base – even expand it – and create more jobs at home?  These are questions that should be addressed in a national dialogue.”

Chapter 5 (starting on page 64) is entitled “The High Cost of Free Trade”

pp. 65-66 (in chapter 5): “…we have failed to create and conduct trade policies that serve our national interest.  In fact, we’ve been downright timid.  President Bush’s reversal of his decision to place tariffs on imported steel is illustrative of the confused thinking not only in his administration but in all of Washington.”

PP. 68-69: Dobbs praises the Reagan administrations “voluntary restraint agreement” that limited Japanese auto imports – and Dobbs himself understands, and applauds the fact, that this quota wasn’t really voluntary.

p. 77: “At the very least, we need to begin to pursue a national policy of balanced trade.”

p. 102: “A number of people on Capitol Hill thought [former Council of Economic advisor Greg] Mankiw should have resigned [over Mankiw’s remarks that off-shoring is not bad for the U.S. economy], but I disagreed.  On my broadcast that night, I called on the president to fire him.  Not merely because I disagreed with him, but because Mankiw’s statement raised the administration’s support of overseas outsourcing to a declaration by government policy.”

pp. 108-109: “The real alternative to what we continue to permit Washington and Corporate America to call ‘free trade’ is balanced trade, in which we negotiate trade agreements that are reciprocal in benefit – unlike the World Trade Organization or trade agreements like NAFTA.”

pp. 117-118: Dobbs explicitly calls for a “moratorium on outsourcing.”

pp. 139-140: “Our lack of self-reliance and inability to produce our own goods is seen by most economists as simply a global economy at work, but our growing dependency on the rest of the world for commodities and finished goods alike is, in my opinion, reason for considerable concern, if not alarm.”

p. 150: “While we pursue free trade, our status as the world’s largest debtor nation worsens.  Even if the result is more profits for multinational corporations, do we truly believe that exporting those jobs will lead to a better life in this country, for our workers?  Even if we are buying more and cheaper goods from our trading partners, do we really believe that our quality of life is better and that we should  sustain permanent dependency and indebtedness?  Or will outsourcing and free trade lead to further, wider gaps between the wealthy and our middle class?  Should we simply hope that Corporate America will find a social conscience and voluntarily restrain its outsourcing to a minimum?  Should we continue to permit the exportation of our knowledge base, technology, and capital to other countries to provide the products and services for export back to America?  Or should we rely on public policy, regulation, tariffs, and quotas to protect our standard of living?”

p. 153:  Dobbs calls for “A strong position on the importance of balanced trade, on reducing our national dependency not only on oil but on nearly all imports….”

p. 155: Dobbs calls for “the creation of a comprehensive trade strategy….”

pp. 155-156: “I believe that Congress must act now.  Corporate America will not end outsourcing on its own; it is driven to cut costs and boost short-term profits, and it will continue to claim that even if it ends the practice of outsourcing, its competitors will continue to outsource.  They’re probably right about that.  So let’s level the playing field.  Congress and all state governments should immediately prohibit the outsourcing of government contracts and American jobs to cheap foreign labor.”


To paraphrase the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Lou Dobbs is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own definitions of familiar terms such as ‘protectionist.’


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