Part 4—What Krugman has said: How well do you understand the issues which underlie the debate about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership?
We don’t understand those issues very well. In part, that’s because we spend time every night watching The One True Liberal Channel.
Consider what we’ve been told on the Maddow Show, the channel’s increasingly embarrassing flagship program.
In early May, we were told that “labor and Democrats and people on the left and people in the center are opposed to that trade deal in considerable numbers.” We were told that this big trade deal, which the president favors, might “kill off huge swaths of working-class and middle-class American jobs.”
Six weeks later, we were told that the bill “is a big deal in terms of policy.” We were told it “would affect 40 percent of the world’s economy,” although we weren't told how.
It almost sounds like a bill of that type would be a very big deal. But we’ve heard little more about this bill on the Maddow Show.
Maddow mugs and clowns and plays the fool pretty much every night. She wastes astonishing amounts of time with her pointless profiles of the various Republican presidential candidates, many of whom are simply running vanity campaigns, and with her silly obsession with the earth-shattering projected effects of the first Republican debate, which will take place on August 6, with the vast majority of voters failing to watch.
For whatever reason, Maddow is currently running one of the dumbest programs in cable news history. The trade bill, which might kill huge swaths of jobs, rarely intrudes on the mix.
Tomorrow, we’ll review the fleeting ways Maddow has dealt with this topic. But it’s hard to avoid an obvious thought—Rachel Maddow and her owners simply don’t seem to care a whole lot about the working-class people who, according to her infrequent ten-second alerts, might be losing those huge swaths of jobs.
Maddow likes to clown and mug and cavort and play while telling you, “Watch this apace.” She likes to bang on her toy xylophone and play videotape of herself.
Her show has become a rolling disgrace, a simple burlesque. It’s astounding to think that we liberals accept it. And of course, the trade deal isn’t the only economic issue our silly, multimillionaire host skips merrily past.
Rachel discusses issues of interest to folk of her class. Other folk are out of luck.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the embarrassing way Maddow has dealt with the TPP since her stirring statement on May 7 concerning that huge swath of jobs. Basically, she has tended to return to the topic, though only briefly, when the topic can be used to pleasure us in our tribal instincts, thus making us feel good inside.
That said, why does Obama support the deal while Elizabeth Warren does not? Why has Obama criticized Warren in direct, even impolite terms about her stance on the bill?
Viewers don’t have the slightest idea, and Our Own Peter Pan doesn’t care. A few weeks ago, in a bout of frustration, we decided to take a look at what Paul Krugman has said.
It isn’t that Krugman is always right. Presumably, no one is.
It isn’t that Krugman has to be right about trade. For all we know, it’s his blind spot.
That said, Krugman doesn’t bang on toy xylophones while the apparent intern Nick is forced to stage a sad parade behind him. On Wednesday nights, he doesn’t play tape of the jokes he told at Tuesday afternoon’s staff meetings, while Nick and the rest of the staff were forced to sit there and laugh.
Krugman has been the liberal world’s MVP for quite a few years now. He’s a serious person with serious concerns; he isn’t a cable news clown. For those reasons, we decided to search his views about the proposed trade deal, which Maddow uses as an excuse to send us to bed feeling good.
What did we find when we staged our search? Let’s start in 2013.
In December of that year, Krugman did a blog post about the TPP. He stated the view he seems to have held ever since that time:
The proposed trade bill isn’t that big a deal, Krugman said in his post:
KRUGMAN (12/12/13): I’ve been getting a fair bit of correspondence wondering why I haven’t written about the negotiations for a Trans Pacific Partnership, which many of my correspondents and commenters regard as something both immense and sinister.Uh-oh! Two years ago, Krugman rolled his eyes at the one “fact” Maddow has managed to offer. 40 percent of global output!
The answer is that I’ve been having a hard time figuring out why this deal is especially important.
The usual rhetoric—from supporters and opponents alike—stresses the size of the economies involved: hundreds of millions of people! 40 percent of global output! But that tells you nothing much. After all, the Iceland-China free trade agreement created a free trade zone with 1.36 billion people!!! But only 300,000 of those people live in Iceland, and nobody considers the agreement a big deal.
The big talk about TPP isn’t that silly. But my starting point for things like this is that most conventional barriers to trade—tariffs, import quotas, and so on—are already quite low, so that it’s hard to get big effects out of lowering them still further.
OK, I don’t want to be too dismissive. But so far, I haven't seen anything to justify the hype, positive or negative.
He moved ahead to his “starting point for things like this”—the claim that trade barriers are already quite low, so a deal of this type is unlikely to have big major effects.
We don’t know if that view is correct. We do know that Maddow doesn’t seem to care enough to stop joking long enough to ask Krugman about that view—or to ask someone else with expertise, if Krugman has stopped doing comedy shows.
Krugman hasn’t written about the TPP much, but he hasn’t limited himself to blog posts. On February 2014, he wrote a full column about it.
We don’t know if Krugman was right that day, but no toy xylophones were involved.
Krugman started by saying that he wouldn’t care if the whole darn thing just faded away in the face of bipartisan skepticism. According to what Krugman wrote that day, “t's far from clear that the T.P.P. is a good idea.”
KRUGMAN (2/28/14): No Big DealLater in the column, Krugman offered a more detailed analysis of the potential pros and cons. In this passage, he says that arguments from both sides are hugely overblown:
Everyone knows that the Obama administration’s domestic economic agenda is stalled in the face of scorched-earth opposition from Republicans. And that’s a bad thing: The U.S. economy would be in much better shape if Obama administration proposals like the American Jobs Act had become law.
It’s less well known that the administration’s international economic agenda is also stalled, for very different reasons. In particular, the centerpiece of that agenda—the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or T.P.P.—doesn’t seem to be making much progress, thanks to a combination of negotiating difficulties abroad and bipartisan skepticism at home.
And you know what? That’s O.K. It's far from clear that the T.P.P. is a good idea. It’s even less clear that it’s something on which President Obama should be spending political capital. I am in general a free trader, but I’ll be undismayed and even a bit relieved if the T.P.P. just fades away.
KRUGMAN: There's a lot of hype about T.P.P., from both supporters and opponents. Supporters like to talk about the fact that the countries at the negotiating table comprise around 40 percent of the world economy, which they imply means that the agreement would be hugely significant. But trade among these players is already fairly free, so the T.P.P. wouldn't make that much difference.What the T.P.P. would do, Krugman went on to say, “is increase the ability of certain corporations to assert control over intellectual property.”
Meanwhile, opponents portray the T.P.P. as a huge plot, suggesting that it would destroy national sovereignty and transfer all the power to corporations. This, too, is hugely overblown. Corporate interests would get somewhat more ability to seek legal recourse against government actions, but, no, the Obama administration isn't secretly bargaining away democracy.
“The corporations benefiting from enhanced control over intellectual property would often be American,” he said. “But this doesn't mean that the T.P.P. is in our national interest.”
Krugman speculated about Obama’s reasons for spending political capital on the deal. In closing, he said this: “If the big trade deal comes to nothing, as seems likely, it will be, well, no big deal.”
By now, it looks like the big trade deal actually may come to something. In March, Krugman offered another blog post on the topic, including these excerpts:
KRUGMAN (3/11/15): Not to keep you in suspense, I’m thumbs down. I don’t think the proposal is likely to be the terrible, worker-destroying pact some progressives assert, but it doesn’t look like a good thing either for the world or for the United States, and you have to wonder why the Obama administration, in particular, would consider devoting any political capital to getting this through.Both sides are overstating, Krugman once again said. In that, he included the sky-is-falling, lost-jobs brigade to whom Maddow later alluded.
So, about the deal. The first thing you need to know is that almost everyone exaggerates the importance of trade policy. In part, I believe, this reflects globaloney: talking about international trade sounds glamorous and forward-thinking, so everyone wants to make that the centerpiece of their remarks. (The same thing happens to an even greater extent when international money issues like the dollar's role as a reserve currency crop up.)
Which brings me to my last point: Why, exactly, should the Obama administration spend any political capital—alienating labor, disillusioning progressive activists—over such a deal?
Again, he wondered why Obama is alienating allies over such an underwhelming deal.
We have no idea if Krugman’s views are correct. We’d love to see him interviewed about these issues, especially about that huge swath of jobs which Maddow mentioned once.
On the brighter side, Krugman wasn’t wasting our time and insulting our intelligence when he wrote that column and those posts. He wasn’t wasting our time with ruminations about Candidate Bush’s alleged bird calls and related sound effects.
Maddow is a different bird, a bird of an increasingly embarrassing feather. Tomorrow, we’ll show you the way she has clowned and pleasured us with this topic, which she says is important.
It’s embarrassing to see what Maddow’s show has become. It’s a scandal that we the liberals are prepared to accept this big dumb barrel of undisguised corporate nonsense.
Tomorrow: Fun with the TPP