Free Trade: Bill Buckley v. Lou Dobbs

It would seem that William Buckley has decided to show the kids over at NRO how to an oped on economics as he blasts Lou Dobbs for being a trade protectionist:

The indignation of Mr. Dobbs caused some viewers to wonder whether there was, suddenly, a development in the economic picture that altered the common understanding of the case for free trade. Roderick Boyd in the New York Sun reports: “One intellectual opponent of Mr. Dobbs’s said he focuses on the costs of America’s free-market policies without even trying to communicate the benefits…What is new is the immaterialization of many economic products. There isn’t any way to send a banana through cyberspace, but that doesn’t really affect the basic reason for free trade, which is the doctrine of comparative advantage. Even though there is a universalization of skills, in an age when anybody can type on a keyboard, the acquisition of such skills by a Third World country does not diminish the value of goods being produced, rather it adds to it. The worker in Central America can hope to buy the radio made in Japan, or the computer made in California. The proposition hasn’t changed, that the difference between greed and husbandry has to do with the perspective of the critic. When a century ago we were shown the horseless carriage, we didn’t think to focus on the greed of Henry Ford; we chose, rather, to applaud his ingenuity. President Bush is standing by free trade policies (however imperfectly we abide by them). It requires acts of faith in economic laws to applaud free trade. But Adam Smith was resoundingly correct in laying down the law that both parties benefit, giving us the benefit of exposure to Lou Dobbs, and the freedom to reject his counsel.

But in partial defense of Lou, his show a couple of Tuesdays ago had a very good discussion about CAFTA with Christopher Padilla:

PADILLA: Well, these are small countries, Lou, but they’re actually very big markets for our exports. In fact, we trade more with Central America than we trade with Brazil or with Australia. As the president says, you know, it’s easy to trade into America. What we want to do is make sure that others open their markets so that we can sell them our products and services. I watched your program last night. You had a farmer on from Iowa, who’s concerned about CAFTA. And I wonder what that farmer would say if he knew that 99 percent of farm products coming in from Central America today are duty-free, but if he grows corn or soybeans or hogs or cattle, he has to pay pretty hefty tariffs on those things in Central America. So we probably won’t agree on a lot of trade agreements, Lou, but on this one, I think we are leveling the playing field, and I think that’s a strong argument for it.

Later Lou fired off this comment:

You know, you once referred to this broadcast, particularly me, implying that I’m something of a protectionist, and I just want to set the record straight, between you and me, just you and me, no one else, I’m neither a protectionist or an economic isolationist as the administration has tried to brand me. I want to see healthy, mutual, balanced trade. I have to ask you, in that sense, what is this administration? Because if I for the life of me cannot understand why we continue to pursue policies that for 20 years have resulted in deficits, and we’re a country now approaching $4 trillion in external trade debt. When are we going to redress what is a clear deficit and a clear and I think present danger to the well-being of this economy?

Hey Lou, I’m not going to defend Bush’s economic record, but let’s be clear, the trade deficit is the result of policies that have lowered national savings. I know Buckley may have been rough on you so perhaps you’d prefer to read columns from the kindler and gentler Bruce Bartlett. Note to NRO: more Bartlett and Buckley, less Kudlow-Luskin-Moore.