How many "Free Trade" Economists will thank the Union?

I’ve said before that the “Buy American” provisions in the stimulus bill were not exactly a major issue. (I believe the phrase was roughly, “could drive a broken Mexican truck through the holes, even if dead drunk.”) Many economists (hi, Barkley) disagreed, even while some acknowledged that the income effect from “buying American” would be mitigated by the substitution effect on the FX rate, while others noted that reprisal threats just might not be credible.

But time went by, and Barry O. “yielded,” adding an explicit provision that “buy American” would follow current trade agreements—which the more aware economists later noted was basically an indication that we will support “free trade” only if the other guy does. (Sorry, China.)

So now is the time for credit-taking. And while the usual suspects want to be credited, the reality of what they asked for and what they received belies that claim.

Who came to the support of “free trade for free traders”? Why, the United Steelworkers Union, of course:

The news came only hours after the United Steelworkers pleaded Canada’s case to lawmakers from steel-producing states.

A written submission to the congressional steel committee from the Steelworkers’ president, Canadian Leo Gerard, asked that legislators exempt Canada from the provision.

“Because we are an international union, and because Canadian and U.S. manufacturing is so integrated, we encourage you and other members of the steel caucus to approach your counterparts in Canada to discuss a co-ordinated approach,” Gerard’s submission read….

The Steelworkers have said it’s Chinese steel, not Canadian, that’s the intended target of “Buy American.” American steel-makers have long accused China of employing unjust policies that give its steel manufacturers a competitive advantage.

Anyone wonder why they might believe that?

And, needless to say, EconomistMom’s organization is right in the middle of the fooforaw:

The steel company executives who showed up for Wednesday’s caucus hearing were skeptical of the “Buy American” warnings.

Dan DiMicco, chief executive of Nucor Corp., dismissed as “garbage” a recent study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics that “Buy American” could cost, not save, thousands of U.S. jobs.

“The American people are with us and with you on this issue,” he told the steel caucus members.

And they’re right. The American people support free trade—with countries that allow us free trade.

It seems that only some economists cannot tell the difference.