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Conceding Too Much

Max Sawicky quotes at length from an overheated Lew Rockwell essay (is there any other kind) on how the real threat to liberty in America today comes from the right. Rockwell, however, is too kind in his assertion that the contemporary GOP is "pleased to preserve most of free enterprise." Consider my longest-running unexpected beef with the Bush administration -- it's quixotic effort to prevent Canadian logging companies from selling us cheap softwood lumber. Or one of its more novel efforts -- the war on cheap shrimp from Vietnam. Somewhere along the way, I believe the administration tried to prevent the Chinese from selling us either cheaps socks, cheap bras, or both. The point is not especially that Bush has been a uniquely bad president on trade issues (though perhaps he has, I haven't studied the issue) but rather than in many of these cases -- especially my beloved softwood lumber one -- it's more than obvious that policy has simply been put up for sale to the highest bidder. There is no misguided economic theory at work in this White House.

There is no misplaced humanitarian concern for the third world laborer. There is simply the fact that the US softwood lumber producing industry has evidently paid the President of the United States more money than has the US softwood lumber consuming industry. The only thing this administration has in common with the ideals of free market theory is its seeming determination to demonstrate the truth of the crassest public choice characterizations of public sector decision-making. Does PhARMA want a hundreds of billions in subsidies? Is PhARMA willing to pay? Then subsidies they shall get. Do they want special rules written into a so-called "trade" agreement with Australia? Are they willing to pay? Then they shall have them.

Seriously. Canadians want to sell you cheap wood. Whether or not the availability of this cheap wood is, to some extent, the result of Canadian policy is not the issue. They want to sell it to you. You want to buy it. But George W. Bush won't let you. Instead, he proposes that we get our wood by making it easier to cut down our nation's federally protected forestland. Really. That's the policy. Why let someone else cut down his trees for you, when you could cut down your own trees at greater expense?

January 4, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

"There is simply the fact that the US softwood lumber producing industry has evidently paid the President of the United States more money than has the US softwood lumber producing industry."

Fascinating.

Posted by: praktike | Jan 4, 2005 12:54:29 AM

I agree with you completely Matt.

Posted by: Mr. Beaver | Jan 4, 2005 1:03:31 AM

Lew Rockwell is right, more or less.

The Bush regime combines the worst elements of FDR - the rollback of civil liberties, the obsession with moral hygiene, the traditional family, and censorship of popular culture, etc - with none of the economic populism that made Roosevelt's dark side bearable. Not to mention the fact that Hitler and the Empire of Japan were genuine, existential threats to the survival of democratic western civilization, and the Islamo-fascists are simply a band of nihilistic hooligans who (if we felt like it) could be effectively kept out of our country.

Posted by: Green Dem | Jan 4, 2005 1:19:25 AM

praktike's got a point, Matt. You should change that second "softwood lumber producing industry" to "softwood lumber consuming industry". Or whatever you really meant.

Posted by: beer_me | Jan 4, 2005 1:23:51 AM

One of the few things that pisses me off about modern Democrats is their tendency to rely on protectionist or protectionist-like arguments when it comes to trade and similar matters. The Republican party, to its credit, seems to be better than the Democrats, or at least that's the way it used to be. Look at the doubling of agricultural subsidies, the steel tariffs, or that recent piece of legislation that gave billions away to corporations. I'm not saying that the Democrats should get a pass on their poor tendencies because the Republicans are turning out to be nearly as bad, if not worse. But when you think about it, at least the Democrats appear to have the interests of those not at the upper end of the spectrum, however misguided some of their policies must be.

Posted by: Brian | Jan 4, 2005 1:25:32 AM

Reducing the US trade deficit? Easy one, buy more American made products.

Posted by: stress | Jan 4, 2005 1:27:05 AM

"Reducing the US trade deficit? Easy one, buy more American made products."

Tell me where I can buy an American-made TV set, toaster, or stereo, and I'll gladly oblige.

Posted by: Snarkasaurus Rex | Jan 4, 2005 1:50:41 AM

Right on. It is cronyism and corruption. These are words that used to, and can, resonate with folks. Framing, talking points, whatever. These clowns with all the money are doing whatever they want, and 51% of us apparently think it is OK so long as gays can't get married, or whatever.

The greed of this administration and its friends is absolutely breathtaking if you notice it. The Dems need to make people notice it. We don't need to be pure on this issue (we can't be), we just need to be loud and provide some very good examples (which aren't too hard to come by). Blue and Red are getting screwed by this stuff, time to make folks understand it.

Posted by: abjectfunk | Jan 4, 2005 2:30:22 AM

Matt, in reading your comments I had to check and see if you were talking about the same Rockwell essay that I read. Rockwell's piece is about the militaristic distortion of the American Right, the leader-worship and the centralism that make a mockery of "small government" conservatism. Well, yes, the big corporate powers that be buy favors from Washington: that's the rule no matter which statist party rules the roost. But I think Rockwell was making a much larger, more angular point that had little to do with protectionism.

Posted by: Justin Raimondo | Jan 4, 2005 3:24:11 AM

I'm trying to think of the word that describes when a government does the bidding of a few business owners for money.

I'm stumped. Can someone help?

Posted by: jerry | Jan 4, 2005 4:17:12 AM

And don't forget to screw one of our allies in the "War on Terror"

Australian beef and sugar!

Posted by: Doc | Jan 4, 2005 7:09:51 AM

the US softwood lumber producing industry has evidently paid the President of the United States more money than has the US softwood lumber producing industry

Ah, more trouble with those pesky homonyms...

Posted by: bobo brooks | Jan 4, 2005 7:50:12 AM

It's a cheap shot but all I can think is, "Need some soft wood?"

Posted by: larry birnbaum | Jan 4, 2005 8:23:45 AM

"The only thing this administration has in common with the ideals of free market theory is its seeming determination to demonstrate the truth of the crassest public choice characterizations of public sector decision-making."

Exactly! The Administration's trade policy is all part of the right's overall plan to provide an ideological justification for the eventual total destruction of the public sector.

Posted by: luis | Jan 4, 2005 8:56:20 AM

Well, the US political system is based on porous political parties allowing very direct representation of the best organised (whether cash or volunteers) social interests in particular issue areas. In trade, this means many advantages for protectionist interests. In foreign policy, this means ethnic group capture. In regulatory affairs, this means that Wall St runs the SEC (or at least, much more so than the City of London runs the UK Financial Services Authority). This is a perennial feature of US politics, and cannot be altered without big changes to the Constitution and party organisation or both. If you think that Bush 43 is the only one to blame, you shd see what Clinton did to change Bush 41's draft of NAFTA to increase the price of the sugar in US supermarkets.

Posted by: otto | Jan 4, 2005 9:00:18 AM

word

Posted by: Something Polish | Jan 4, 2005 9:08:11 AM

Wow, it took 15 comments for somebody to bring up Clinton. I guess we really are approaching the second Bush administration.

Posted by: Barry | Jan 4, 2005 9:09:00 AM

I have to agree with Justin: corrupt politicians is nothing new, to be expected; strong fascist tendencies is a much more serious matter.

Posted by: abb1 | Jan 4, 2005 9:24:10 AM

"Reducing the US trade deficit? Easy one, buy more American made products."

Tell me where I can buy an American-made TV set, toaster, or stereo, and I'll gladly oblige.

It was a sarcastic reference to Bush's dismissal of a recent question about the US trade deficit. "Buy more American products"...one advantage of saying so many incredibly outrageous things is that eventually people just stop noticing.

Posted by: Haggai | Jan 4, 2005 9:26:22 AM

Softwood prices artificially inflated? That means the cost of new housing is artificially inflated.

That means the prices of existing housing is artificially inflated--a boon to millions of American homeowners.

Now, all indications are that the housing bubble will burst in the next 18 months, bringing down prices for new and existing houses in most markets. (The hope at this keyboard is that the market for prewar outer borough co-ops stays robust, but what's the likelihood of that?) Once prices start to free-fall, that's when the administration will open the borders to cheap wood.

I mean, isn't that the M.O. here? Kicking 'em when they're down?

Posted by: jlw | Jan 4, 2005 10:01:19 AM

It has nothing to do with Canadian softwood but destroying the framework of the FTAA (and Bush is accomplishing this where a bunch of people in turtle suits couldn't) is well worth the hypocrisy and cronyism.

Posted by: absynthe | Jan 4, 2005 10:58:29 AM

I am sure that the population of Western Canada will understand and appreciate that point, absynthe. I'm sure our communities have nothing better to do than be your policy martyrs.

Posted by: Wrye | Jan 4, 2005 11:44:37 AM

The jobs were going to go to Brazil eventually anyway.

You could also make the same point about U.S. mill workers not wanting to sacrifice entire communities and warm their hands over some cheap softwood fire in the trashcan hashing out the benefits of free trade.

Posted by: absynthe | Jan 4, 2005 11:48:06 AM

MY: You should add Creekstone Farms' quest to pay for its own BSE (BCE?) testing in order to reopen its export market to Japan to your list of for-no-good-reason. All to protect Big Beef.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/aplocal_story.asp?category=6420&slug=Mad%20Cow%20Layoffs

The free market party my tooshie.

Posted by: niq | Jan 4, 2005 12:30:33 PM

Matthew's certainly right on the basic economics, and the disastrous record of this administration (though I was suprised he left out the steel tariffs). I wonder, though, about the "follow the money" argument here. I haven't seen much hard info to back up the notion this is a "quid pro cash". Until I do, I'll continue to think it's "quid pro votes". The steel, lumber, and textile industries are all strong in their local regions, and favoring them will (theoretically) help deliver those regions for the GOP. Those hurt by quotas/tariffs are dispersed, and less likely to be single-issue voters.

I think this political calculus is mistaken, but it seems to be the conventional one, and Bush & Co. are nothing if not conventional.

Posted by: Shelby | Jan 4, 2005 12:31:49 PM

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