Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Free Trade

How the Left Should Think About Trade

As the Democratic primaries start to heat up, it’s become clear that Bernie Sanders wants to hit Joe Biden hard on trade:

When people take a look at my record versus Vice-President Biden’s record, I helped lead the fight against NAFTA–he voted for NAFTA. I helped lead the fight against permanent normal trade relations with China–he voted for it. I strongly opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership–he supported it.

Since 2016, American politics has focused quite heavily on immigration. It’s a much more visible issue than trade. Immigrants and refugees are physical people you can see, or even interview. The border is a place you can go, a wall is a physical thing that either gets built or it doesn’t. Some of us are friends of immigrants, some of us are immigrants, and all of us are descended from immigrants. Trade is different. The effects of trade are hard to see and hard to measure. You can see stuff in your local big box store stamped with “Made in China”, but otherwise trade doesn’t make itself obvious to you unless you’re one of the people who loses a job to outsourcing. So the mainstream press doesn’t write about trade very much, unless it’s implying that President Trump is going to visit unspeakable horrors on us through a trade war with China. Even the left press is typically quiet about it. This is a shame, because trade has much larger impacts on ordinary American workers than immigration does.

You can see the rest of this one over at Current Affairs:

How Changing Understandings of Democracy Create New Possibilities for the Left

Yesterday, I gave a short talk for the Platypus Society at Goldsmiths‘ in London about interactions between democracy and leftism. The following post is a transcript of that talk.

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Why We Have Borders

When I was in undergrad, I was for open borders. The people in the postcolonial states have been badly screwed over for ages. The western states did this to them–why not let postcolonial peoples get access to western job markets, western public services, and yes, even the western welfare state? They’re human beings, just like us. The purpose of borders is to determine who has access to the juicy western stuff and who doesn’t. Why should anyone be denied access to that stuff? It’s patently unfair. The global economy is a system. The rich countries have gotten rich off the backs of the poor countries–our achievements are their achievements too. Why can’t they share in the spoils?

More recently, I wrote a piece for Current Affairs about the value of political unions. In this piece, I argued that we couldn’t economically integrate territories–permitting capital and people to move freely within them–without politically integrating those territories. Political integration is hard–people in rich countries don’t want to have to redistribute resources to people in poor countries, and they don’t want people from poor countries to get a say in decisionmaking. It’s much easier to get people to support free trade and free movement than it is to get people to support creating and expanding federal states. I reluctantly concluded that we can’t open our borders economically until we’re ready to open them politically. Free movement and free trade with Mexico requires political union with Mexico, and until Americans are willing to do the latter the former will cause trouble.

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Migrants Don’t Destroy Traditional Values–The Market Does

The other day I ran across a survey–apparently 40% of British people feel that “having a wide variety of backgrounds has undermined British culture”. When people say that western culture has been undermined, they are implicitly saying that at one point in time western culture was better. Many socialists, liberals, and progressives don’t agree with that–they think traditional values are wrong and moving past them is good. But today, instead of relitigating social issue debates about changing values, I want to make a case to our socially conservative friends on their own terms. To be clear, this doesn’t mean I agree with traditional values. I merely want to show that the values social conservatives treasure are not threatened by migrants–they are instead threatened by the very markets many on the right so deeply prize.

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How Trump’s Tariff Game Might Play Out

President Trump has already proposed $50 billion in tariffs on China and now wants to seek an additional $100 billion. I’ve noticed that people don’t seem to have much of a sense of scale with tariffs. It’s understandable–tariffs haven’t been a central issue in American politics for a while. We’ve forgotten how to talk about tariff policy and now we’re being made to re-learn. So, without further ado, let’s talk tariffs.

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