Friday, March 02, 2007

The Politics of Protection Are Too Serious for Politics

It is not my practice to comment on the political affairs of countries in which I do not have voting rights (though I often have plenty to say about affairs in Scotland where I do vote).

Hence, who is the next President of the United States is none of my business. However, I have taken a close interest over the years in US politics and last year, for example, I read the three-volume biography of Lyndon Johnston by Robert Caro with great interest. With the pending nominations season under way for the next Presidential election, I occasionally read about the would-be candidates, and have taken to reading what the candidate candidates say and what is said about them, particularly Senator Clinton (don’t ask why because I don’t know).

Yesterday, the namesake of Lost legacy, Congressman Adam Smith Oregon), came out in support of Mrs Clinton’s main Democratic Party rival, Barack Obama, and I was not happy about this as Smith had opposed a free trade area proposal a year or so back. Today, Red State Blog reports a speech by Hilary Clinton under the heading ‘The Newest protectionist: wanting to be president in the worst possible way’ (by Pejman Yousefzadeh) and comments. She said:

"When it comes to the fiscal recklessness and economic fatalism of the current administration, the writing might not be on the wall but yesterday the writing was on the Big Board. The economic policies of the last six years have contributed to an erosion of US economic sovereignty and have made us more dependent on the economic decisions of other nations," said Senator Clinton. "We need to take steps to restore fiscal responsibility and sound economic policies based on the facts not ideology," said Senator Clinton in remarks on the Senate floor.

Cutting through the language, it appears that she is sliding towards a protectionist stance, and Red State quotes in reply remarks by Don Boudreau, entirely apposite to the circumstances:

As for the trade deficit . . . well . . . it has been written more times than I can count--this is surely not an exhaustive list of links--that the trade deficit is an utterly meaningless metric and should not be employed as a method for policy analysis. Don't believe me? Then believe Adam Smith:

‘Nothing, however, can be more absurd than this whole doctrine of the balance of trade….’

Again, read the whole thing. I certainly intend to later on this year, if only to refresh my recollections. But it's never too late to read it for the first time . . . especially if you are seen as a plausible candidate for President of the United States.”

Of course, the USA does not have a free trade policy; like the EU, of which Scxotland is a party, it is protectionist, especially in agriculture. There are those who would go all the way and build a 'fortress' of protection (and lower the growth prospects and living standards of their own people's and most others too) and those who are moderate free traders where it suits them. Few are free traders in a degree to really make a real differnece to the living standards of poorer countries, with only marginal discomforts in their own countries (election years are not good one for change).

So Senator Mrs Hilary Clinton is edging to one side of the so-called 'free trade' deadlock. That is worrying. But I am not voting in her election. However, in May we go to the polls in Scotland to elect a new parliament for Scotland (not England), and I am voting in that election, but, unfortunately trade policy is a 'reserved' issue, i.e., decided by the UK parliament in London, not the parliament in Edinburgh.

Unlike the British American colonies, we do have representation in the London parliament, which was something Adam Smith suggested at the time should be extended to the American colonies, but London rejected this in preference to changing nothing, and events developed that ensured that London lost everything.

I wonder what Adam Smith would suggest we do in May... Meanwhile, I know what he would respond to Mrs Clinton's speech.

[Read the report, plus podcast of senator Clinton’s speech at:
And read Adam Smith Wealth of Nations at: WN IV.iii.c.2: p 488]


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