One difference between the two presidents is that Biden practices what former WTO Appellate Body judge James Bacchus calls “polite protectionism.” There are no longer any angry tweets or absurd claims, but Trump’s “national security” tariffs on aluminum and steel from friendly countries, or the “voluntary restraints” later “negotiated” with them, generally remain in force. It should be noted the new tariffs on aluminum and steel were not really targeting China since there was already little of these products imported from that country because of previous protectionist barriers.
In general, the Biden administration’s interest in trade appears motivated by the environmental, labor, and other restraints it can impose on trade agreements. There is no real effort to liberalize trade. For example, recent trade discussions with the United Kingdom produced pious generalities about the importance of “worker‐centric trade” and “work[ing] to develop more durable and inclusive trade policies that demonstrate that trade can be a force for good and create more opportunities for people and gender equity” (to quote from the joint statement issued after the meeting), but nothing about abolishing government‐created obstacles to trade.
Trump’s protectionist policies catered to American manufacturers and their workers. Biden’s main political clientele is American trade unions and their members. The two presidents are splashing around in two different protectionist “swamps,” but there is much overlap between the two. Large trade unions often cater to employees of manufacturing corporations—for example, the United Steelworkers and large steel manufacturers, or the United Auto Workers and Detroit car makers. All these are special interests.
Biden claims to be defending “workers’ rights” (higher salaries and union rights) in foreign countries that trade with America—Mexican workers, for example. In fact, he is harming those workers to protect his domestic labor clientele. Foreign workers involved in trade with America would be better served if the U.S. government let them and their employers compete with their American counterparts based on what each finds his comparative advantage. To consider a domestic parallel, forcing Mississippi firms to pay the same wages as California firms would benefit the workers and business owners in the latter state, not those in the former.
Mike Munger understands that politicians’ incentives aren’t aligned with the public interest. Here’s his conclusion:
I am stumped by what a solution to this problem might look like. We ignore people who (rightly) point out that simple solutions to political and economic problems make things worse, not better. We vote for, and reward, charlatans who pretend to know the answers, and zealots who actually believe their own superficial galimatias. Ultimately, it’s a collective action problem: it would be better for society if our leaders were humble and honest about how little they actually know. But it’s better for the candidates for leadership if they pretend to be committed to a whole dog’s breakfast of truths that just ain’t so.
So why keep ignoring the vast majority’s concerns? Mr. Biden gave the same speech in Philadelphia in September, and Democratic fortunes have declined nearly every week since. One obvious answer is that Democrats don’t have a good story to tell. Which gets to the other: The only agenda progressives will allow the president to sell is one that even the Biden White House knows is too toxic to campaign on.
What’s the president supposed to say? Elect Democrats, and we’ll spend a lot more money during this time of inflation! Elect Democrats, and we’ll raise taxes on the verge of recession! Mr. Biden could have pivoted long ago to a message that resonates with more of the electorate: pro-energy, pro-growth, pro-fiscal-rectitude. But his base would lose its mind. So Mr. Biden is left talking to them alone, using the “threat to democracy” to spur Democratic turnout.
There’s a potent lesson for Republicans, too. If this election is showing anything, it’s that most Americans are exhausted by hysteria, impeachment, live congressional investigations, conspiracy theories and politicians who keep wrecking standards and norms in the name of saving democracy.
There is thus a striking disconnect between the huge political battle over the legislation and these modest estimates of its supposed consequences. Unsurprisingly, professional economists are deeply divided over the impact of the legislation. On the one side stand critics of the IRA, who fear its provisions are down payments on a much larger programs to come; on the other are defenders of the program, such as Alan Blinder, who tend to say that opposition to the program is overblown, if only because “damage done through higher corporate rates would be offset by job-creating provisions.”
Unfortunately, this one sentence reveals the dangerous mindset that permeates the entire Democratic Party program. Why believe that these promised offsets will ever take place in this overheated political environment? At present, there are no available, let alone credible, estimates as to the size of these effects, which is par for the course. But matters only get worse because no estimate, however sophisticated, can anticipate how future regulations and ultimate enforcement policies will shape the economic effects. Elect a Republican president in 2024 and we have one kind of tax regime; elect a Democrat and there is quite another. Economists like Blinder then compound their original error when they insist that “higher taxes on capital distort corporate decision-making, but in the direction of using more labor, not less.” But, a priori, a distortion for labor is neither better nor worse than one for capital. Reduce capital, and the result may be diminished investments that in turn lead to fewer jobs. [DBx: Or, much more likely, worse-paying jobs.]
Jacob Sullum reports on the lawsuit filed by the New Civil Liberties Alliance on behalf of several physicians challenging California’s new authoritarian statute that penalize physicians who don’t tow the official line on covid. A slice:
Even if a doctor were keen to avoid deviation from the “scientific consensus” regarding COVID-19, he would have a hard time figuring out what that means. “The term ‘contemporary scientific consensus’ is undefined in the law and undefinable as a matter of logic,” the NCLA says. “No one can know, at any given time, the ‘consensus’ of doctors and scientists on various matters related to prevention and treatment of Covid-19. And even if such a poll could theoretically be taken, who would qualify to be polled? Only those doctors treating Covid-19 patients? All doctors and scientists, or only those in certain fields? Who determines which fields? How often would such polls be taken to ensure the results are based on the most up-to-date science? How large a majority (or plurality) of the polled professionals qualifies as a ‘consensus’? The very existence of these questions illustrates that any attempt at a legal definition of ‘scientific consensus’ according to which doctors must operate in their day-to-day practice is impractical and borders on the absurd.”
This consensus was, instead, far more religious in character. Even famous and high-profile dissenters have faced harassment at its hands, for airing topics that ought, you’d think, to be within the scope of objective discussion. Celebrity podcaster Joe Rogan has faced calls to be cancelled after asking Covid questions. UnHerd’s Freddie Sayers was censored for interviewing lockdown dissenter and former WHO cancer lead Dr Karol Sikora.
Nor is having expertise or evidence on your side much of a defence. Dr Peter McCullough, a top American cardiologist, argued against vaccinating those with natural Covid immunity, and voiced concerns about the effect of the Covid vaccine on cardiac health. For expressing such views, and despite evidence that natural immunity is more robust than the vaccine and that myocarditis is a recognised side-effect of the vaccine, McCullough now faces being struck off by an American medical board.
Even as scientific debate has been stifled, obvious inferences from widely available evidence were ignored where these conflicted with settled Virtual consensus. There was, for example, no rationale for mandatory vaccination once it became clear that — as acknowledged as far back as December 2021 by even the Virtuals’ house journal the New York Times— vaccines didn’t prevent virus transmission. And yet mandates remained in place across many locations long after that date. Indeed, around the time the NYT article was published, Oster herself was advocating escalating pressure to vaccinate, from public shame to stopping the unvaccinated from travelling, working or attending events.
We all knew every pandemic policy would come with trade-offs. The lawn-sign priesthood forbade any discussion of those trade-offs. I don’t blame the class that so piously dressed their own material interests as the common good, for wanting to dodge the baleful looks now coming their way. But no “amnesty” will be possible that doesn’t acknowledge the class politics, the corruption of scientific process, the self-dealing, and the self-righteousness that went to enforcing those grim years of lawn-sign tyranny.