Tariffs, not trade?

By Razib Khan | November 11, 2010 3:36 am

In the the 19th century the Democratic party, rooted in large part among Southern planters who were dependent on exports of commodities and imports of finished goods, was the party of free trade. The northern Whigs, and later the Republicans, were the party of tariffs. They were the faction which drew support from the industry of the North which benefited from protection against European competitors. The Republican support for tariffs and Democratic opposition persisted into the early 20th century. Only after World War II did this long standing division between the two parties diminish, so that by 1993 a much larger proportion of Republicans than Democrats supported the ratification of NAFTA.

Because of NAFTA’s prominence in my mind, as well as the tinge of economic nationalism on the labor Left and the maturing anti-globalization sentiment on the cultural Left, I had assumed that the Republicans tilted toward free trade more than Democrats. Not so. Pew came out with a survey a few days ago, and the results indicate that my preconception was wrong.


globalcapital

I don’t really want to litigate the issue of trade. Whatever your nuanced view, and I’m sure you have a nuanced view since you’re reading this weblog, I think we can agree that most Americans are not economically enlightened. These are gut emotional responses, drawn out during a time of economic stress and anxiety. The fact that ~1/3 of Americans think that trade makes prices higher seems crazy. You don’t need to know about comparative advantage, or track the CPI. Just consider how Walmart has flooded the US with cheap Chinese goods.

So we’re not talking about people who have a good grasp of international economics. What’s going on here? I think this has some element of xenophobia. Those with high school educations or less have rational reason to worry. But what’s going on with senior citizens? Many of these are retired and drawing fixed Social Security income, don’t have to worry about losing health insurance because of job loss, and might be deriving income from pension funds invested in the global pool of capital. The deflationary pressure of cheap foreign goods and services should be welcome to those on constant but modest incomes. Again, it isn’t a matter of reason, but reflexive aversion to the foreign. It is the young who are having to hustle in the globalized labor market, but the young are most pro-trade.

The Republican party has long had a tension between populists who oppose free flow of labor (immigration) and are suspicious of international capital, and the economic elites. If the populists turn against the free flow of goods & service then the problem will be compounded. As for the Democrats, it looks like the economic nationalists and anti-globalists are fading. I’m updating my stereotypes as of now.

Addendum: The outlines of this are kind of evident in the GSS. I think I ignored/didn’t see the patterns because of my preconceptions. Shame on me!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Economics, Politics
MORE ABOUT: Economics, Free Trade, trade
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  • http://johnhawks.net/weblog John Hawks

    You’re ignoring intergenerational wealth transfer. Grandparents don’t like to see their grandchildren’s parents out of work, or forced to move out of state to find work. They don’t like to see their former workplaces (whether GM or “Main street” shops) “diminished” by competition from cheap imports.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    I think we might be better off in a technocratic age for political parties to be grounded on something like race coalition identity, gender identity, or regional identity. That way instead of it being the technocrat democrat candidate vs. the christian/lower-taxes republican candidate, it can be the white technocrat vs. the brown technocrat, or the male technocrat vs. the female technocrat, or the Florida technocrat vs. the Texas technocrat.

    Technocrats getting identity subpopulations to vote for them, in the Obama/Romney/Hillary Clinton vein. The hardest part these days seems to me to get white conservatives to choose smarter over dumber white conservative politicians (Romney over Palin, for example).

  • http://rxnm.wordpress.com/ miko

    Voters know nothing. Do we know which party’s actual policies have promoted free trade more, or which party has been more protectionist? Since I’m a voter, I of course have no idea. Just tell me where they go to church and how tall they are. But I imagine in congress it is more related to the short-term concerns of individual constituencies than party ideology. On the other hand, Republicans hate governing so maybe for either type of policy Democrats do more legislating.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    Do we know which party’s actual policies have promoted free trade more, or which party has been more protectionist?

    both parties elites seem to be dragging the USA toward open trade in fits & starts. obviously more an issue of class than ideology right now. though the elite left has more principled objections from what i can tell (balancing trade with labor conditions & environmental regulations, etc.).

  • http://figleaf.blogspot.com figleaf

    Funny I was just reflecting on another recent Democrat/Republican inversion (the respective flip-flops on contraception and reproductive choice — for instance George W. Bush’s grandfather was a founding board member of Planned Parenthood back when possessing contraception could land you in jail.)

    I think the trick boils down to the relatively recent Republican choice to recruit rural, southern, evangelical, blue-collar workers, and overt racists away from their traditional Democratic party. The results, ironically, has been significant ideological moderation among Democrats and almost cartoonish ideological extremism among Republicans. (Consider, for instance, the Clinton and Obama administration’s willingness to blow off pressure from their rump leftist wing vs. the struggles Republicans are having to even slightly moderate agitators from the right. Consider the lack of pushback on the notion that global warming can’t possibly be real, let alone a problem, because “God promised Noah there would be no more floods!” That’s from their guy, not ours. And he’s in a position to implement policies based on that ideology. And it is ideology, pure and simple, with no, zero, none consideration of possible controversy in climate science. At all.)

    Anyway, even on trade the big complaints from Democrats were about prohibitions on so-called “side agreements” regarding things like, oh, child labor and pollution rather than on free trade per se.

    I’m aware that you claim to be a libertarian and not a Republican so I’m not holding you responsible. And for the record I’m a Proxmire-libertarian Democrat. Still, yeah, I think it’s a good time to wise up.

    figleaf

  • abb3w

    Which GSS variables?

  • dave

    Is this the result of the multi-decade shift of down-scale whites from the Democrats to the Republicans? If so it seems as if the elites of each party are out of sync with their voters. Bush passed many FTAs, while Obama has, so far, blocked progress on several and not negotiated any new ones.

    On free trade and FTAs. It’s been mainly Repubs except for the biggest one, NAFTA, which was signed by Clinton (though negotiated by Bush 1).

    Here are the existing US FTAs.
    US-Israel FTA (1985- Reagan)
    US-Canada FTA (1988- Reagan – superceded by NAFTA)
    NAFTA (1994 – Clinton, but negotiated by Bush 1)
    US-Jordan (2001 – Bush 2)
    US-Australia, US-Chile, US-Singapore (2004 – Bush 2)
    US-Bahrain, US- Morocco, US-Oman (2006, Bush 2)
    US-Peru (2007, Bush 2)
    DR-CAFTA (2005, Bush 2)

    Bush was a true believer in free trade and FTAs. He wanted the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), but had to settle for Central America, much of the Andes, and a handful of others when both the FTAA and Doha negotiations broke down (Brazil playing a key blocking role in both).

    Bush also negotiated deals with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea which he couldn’t get ratified after the Dems retook Congress. Obama has said he wants to, someday, pass them, especially the one with South Korea. Many think he might pass one or more in the lame duck session. We’ll see. The deadline he gave (his meeting with the S. Korean prez) has already come and gone.

    The explosion in FTA activity by Bush 2 was due to the breakdown in the WTO Doha round. The goal was to prod the world to open trade with competitive liberalization. The pro-free trade argument against bilateral FTAs is that it reduces the incentive for a global agreement which would be much better overall.

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  • Ian

    “Impact of free trade agreements on people in developing countries”…and the options are “good”, “bad” and “no difference”? I’d say that a person picking any one of those options has pretty well identified themselves as not having a clue.

    It’s wonderful when people seek to reduce a complex question to a one-word answer. Does free trade lead to job creation or job loss in the US? The only realistic answer would be “I don’t know, what does the data say?” While the causality might be difficult to extract, one could probably tease apart correlations. But that’s looking at a measurable quantity in one country. But looking at something undefined like “good” or “bad”, and trying to draw conclusions about “developing countries”, with billions of people and a plethora of economic circumstances… The incompetent polling the ignorant? What do they think this is – an election?

  • Katharine

    I think we might be better off in a technocratic age for political parties to be grounded on something like race coalition identity, gender identity, or regional identity. That way instead of it being the technocrat democrat candidate vs. the christian/lower-taxes republican candidate, it can be the white technocrat vs. the brown technocrat, or the male technocrat vs. the female technocrat, or the Florida technocrat vs. the Texas technocrat.

    You don’t see why this is a bad idea?

  • http://www.gnxp.com TangoMan

    I think we might be better off in a technocratic age for political parties to be grounded on something like race coalition identity, gender identity, or regional identity.

    Holy moly, that’s like putting an IED under the notion of e pluribus unum. No thanks.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Katharine and TangoMan,
    Why not engage rather throw up semantic stop signs? I think technocrats may do better as racial or regional representatives than morality play ideological representatives (particularly when the ideologies become fundamental).

    China’s focus on a Chinese race seems to have helped them move from communist to technocratic. Obama’s ability to redefine black authenticity (or rather win an authenticity war/calculation) resulted in hug black turnout for someone with a resume that’s been too nerdily technocratic, high iq, and credential elitist for mass vote turnout in the recent past.

    In contrast, the Republican fixation on ideological purity has allowed people with poor competency narratives to defeat folks alleged to have ideological impurity (for example Romney losing out on both the presidential nomination and without a clear advantage over Palin or Huckabee in 2012).

    But I don’t want to be reduced to playing this role. I just would like to see good analysis on what macrosocial trends or pushes allow us to have the best resource managers managing the resources.

    Here my sense is China may be doing better than the USA, and the Democrats may be doing better than the Republicans.

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This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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