There’s a good chance you’ve seen this ad that Pete Hoekstra ran during the Super Bowl. If not in between watching brain trauma ball, then likely on the intertubes. The ad was immediately recognized as racially insensitive (sure, but political incorrectness doesn’t really bother me) and just plain stupid (there we go, that bothers me!) But is it really exceptional or unprecedented? Or is it just a more clumsy delivery of the rhetoric that politicians spew anyway?
China is a recurring subject in the Republican debates. National debt is given a sinister character by the suggestion that the Chinese own much of it (they own some of it, but by far not most). Here’s Romney from one of the debates:
China is playing by different rules. One, they are stealing intellectual property. Number two, they’re hacking into our computer systems, both government and corporate they are manipulating their currency, and by doing so, holding down the price of Chinese goods, and making sure their products are artificially low-priced. It’s predatory pricing, it’s killing jobs in America I would do something this president should have done a long time ago, which is to label China a currency manipulator. And then I would bring in action at the WTO level, charging them with being a currency manipulator.
Romney’s China rhetoric is relatively more sophisticated and fact-based than many other Republicans’ and yet here we have bad economics. They’re stealing our intellectual property? You mean they refuse to strangle their progress with our monopolies and artificial scarcity? What predators. And here we have the false notion of zero-sum trade, coming from the party that is ostensibly for free trade.
Obama isn’t much better. In his last SOTU, Obama mentioned China 5 times and counted blocking Chinese tires from entering our market as a victory for American workers. Sure, it’s a victory for some workers but on the whole, it’s not a benefit for the American people. Obama knows better and his economic advisers certainly do. But appealing to peoples’ [false] intuitions and paleolithic fear of outsiders is always a politically winning strategy.
The growing consensus, as far as I can tell, among those on the mainstream Left who understand economics is that we shouldn’t stop free trade but rather ensure an ample safety net for the minority who does suffer from the workings of the global market.
China sacrifices her citizens’ subjects’ wealth to make products cheaper for us. This isn’t to the benefit of the Chinese people over the American people. It’s to the benefit of certain Chinese manufacturers over the Chinese people. Countering that with tighter trade restrictions won’t restore the balance in favor of the American people, but rather benefit domestic producers at the expense of everyone else. Tariffs should be seen for what they are – a regressive tax.
Pete Hoekstra may be stupid and he may be blatantly playing off of xenophobia and discredited folk economic beliefs, but he is far from alone.