It seems we are being deluged by editorials in major US newspapers about how all of us pointed headed liberals have it all wrong about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The word has definitely gone out and the newspapers — as apologists for the desires of the power elite — have responded in a huge show of support. Of course, that hasn’t caused them to find the best arguments for the TPP. This may have something to do with the fact that there really aren’t strong arguments for it. The best arguments can be found from people like Thomas Friendman who don’t argue for the agreement on trade grounds but rather national security grounds.
This fact should be enough to make everyone really skeptical. We see this all the time in politics. A policy is pushed for one reason. When that reason is shown to be wrong, the same people simply pick another reason. In the case of the TPP, I think we know why the administration is so hot for it: it funnels money to certain industries — most notably pharmaceuticals and Hollywood. But no one is going to come out and say this because it is clear that if Pfizer and Disney get to charge more money for their products, it isn’t going to create more jobs; it is just going to further enrich their owners.
The most common argument I hear, however, is that these agreements are great for American workers. All of us liberals just think that NAFTA cost jobs when in fact it was great for the American worker. Sunday night, USA Today published an editorial, Trade Deal vs Fact-Free Uproar: Our View. Note that it is misleading to even call the TPP a trade deal because it has very little to do with trade. And it is the very opposite of a “free trade” deal because its biggest effects will likely be to strengthen intellectual property laws — thus creating protectionism. (I’t interesting how “protectionism” is only a dirty word when it is jobs that are being protected; when it is the profits of the rich, it is considered The Greatest Good™.)
In countering us idiots who are “fact-free,” the USA Today shows that it knows very little about this agreement. Dean Baker countered, USA Today Gets Numbers Seriously Wrong in Pushing Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trashing Unions. The newspaper repeats probably the most common error I’ve seen in defending these deals: “manufacturing output has nearly doubled since the late 1990s.” This is based on gross output. And gross output is meaningless.
Think of it this way. Imagine before NAFTA, the US is producing $5,000 engines that go into $10,000 cars that it is also producing. After NAFTA, production of the engines go to Mexico. Now the US is producing $10,000 cars. But it is importing the engines. Clearly, the gross output would have gone up. We would expect the number of $10,000 cars produced to go up because the engines would be cheaper. But would it go enough to offset the loss of production from the engines? In theory, it could. But as Baker noted, “If USA Today used the correct table it would find that real value added in manufacturing has risen by a bit less than 41.0 percent since 1997, compared to growth of 45.8 percent for the economy as a whole.” In other words, manufacturing has not grown as fast as the economy.
This is all entirely typical of the TPP debate. We who are highly skeptical of it get called names — implying that we just don’t understand economics. But reality is the other way around. As Thomas Friedman said, “I wrote a column supporting CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: ‘free trade.'” That is lack of understanding — lack of facts. This isn’t economics or political science or even journalism. This is just apologetics.