How to Devalue Your Brand, Greg Mankiw Version

Greg Mankiw, clearly distracted by his former collaborator’s wife having been denied a tenured position at Harvard, quotes Fred Bergsten in the WSJ, Instapundit-style:

By effectively killing “fast track” procedures that guarantee a yes-or-no vote on trade agreements within 90 days, lawmakers in Washington, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have destroyed the credibility of the U.S. as a reliable negotiating partner.

Which leads to the obvious conclusion: Republicans “destroyed the credibility of the U.S. in 1998 when they did the same thing to President Clinton.

Strangely, Greg Mankiw (Fortune, January 12, 1998) “knew better.”

Policy and politics diverged again in the fast-track debate. Clinton was asking Congress for something all recent Presidents have had–the authority to negotiate trade deals that Congress would consider without amendment. This power is crucial if the President is to continue the multilateral process that over the past half-century has moved the world toward freer trade and greater prosperity.

Although economists are united in support of free trade, opinion polls show the American public is more skeptical. The public’s view is partly based on the false analogy that trade is like war–some countries must lose for others to win….

Because of the public’s ambivalence–and the opposition of interest groups that fear foreign competition–fast track went down to defeat. This may put an end to the multilateral approach to opening up world trade. But it need not mean an end to the free-trade movement.*

Got it? If it’s a Democratic Congress, then Pelosi is a “problem.” If it’s a Republican Congress doing the same thing, it’s Through No Fault of Their Own.

And by not pointing out that he himself used to know better, Greg Mankiw destroys not Fred Bergsten’s credibility, but his own.

Cross-posted from Marginal Utility.

(See also Dani Rodrik, who gives the lie to the whole line of “reasoning.”)

*Yes, I omitted Mankiw’s framing issue (tomatoes), but if he really wants to claim George W. “Steel Tariffs” Bush was different, the only possible response is “Bring it on.”