On Trade: The Sanders — Clinton Divide

Over this campaign season a lot has been made of free trade policies by both the Republicans and the Democrats running for the presidency. While the Republicans seldom breath a word of disagreement on free trade, the Democratic contenders are at odds — there exists a real divide between the Warren Wing of the party and the moderate entrepreneurial wing of the party. Bernie Sanders has made his opposition to what he has dubbed “unfair” free trade agreements clear — he opposes them. When pressed on the issue he claims that he “isn’t against free trade, he’s in favor of fair trade.” Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has taken a more nuanced approach to free trade by taking different stances on different agreements. Furthermore, while one may be inclined to criticize Hillary Clinton for the passage of NAFTA, we have to keep in mind that her Husband, Bill Clinton, was president. It hardly seems fair to blame her for NAFTA. However it is high time both candidates were really pressed on their free trade policy positions. In debate after debate each candidate is asked about free trade and it is often used as an opportunity to echo the same rehearsed line. There’s no real analysis of the issue going in. During interviews Free Trade is barely brought up and when it is, like the debates, it is just a platform from which the candidates may repeat their talking points. The media and the public need to do more.

As far as I can tell Sanders stance on free trade appears to be “no,” and while he hides behind this notion that he is favor of “fair trade,” we are compelled to ask how we should handle globalization absent rising tide inducing free trade in the long run. Surely “no free trade” is no answer at all. And what is meant by “fair trade”- is Sanders suggesting we push for trade agreements that would making signing parties beholden to standards a US laborer or union member may expect? Perhaps he would only be open to trade deals that include protectionist measures to prop up businesses at home and incite international retaliation? The last time we implemented protectionist policies (The Infamous Smoot-Hawley Bill) we exacerbated the great depression and the global economy felt the ripples. Standards of wages expected by U.S. laborers cannot be exported overseas through trade deals, no developing nation would sign such a deal. Furthermore, protectionism poses a legitimate threat to the current global economic order that has lifted so many out of poverty. In the short term Sanders may protect a few strategic businesses from international competition, but which industries would Sanders’s deem “strategic” and worthy of protection? If he’s trying to protect all industries then clearly he isn’t for free trade and he needs to be made to admit that.

While it is abundantly clear that Sanders is more than likely against free trade in general, Hillary Clinton would have to contend with a different line of scrutiny given her nuanced position on free trade. Hillary has stated that she is in favor of “good” trade deals but she has yet to enumerate what makes a trade deal “good” or “bad.” Furthermore she needs to be taken to task on her support of NAFTA (even if indirectly), the trade agreements she did vote for, and the trade agreements she voted against — did she only throw her hat in opposition to shore up support of the Democratic Base and Unions? Two issues with our past trade deals are job training and appropriating enough capital to to train workers displaced by the trade deal. Will Hillary Clinton assure enough allocation of capital to fund retraining of workers displaced by free trade agreements? That’s part of the reason why NAFTA is remembered as such a disastrous policy. Insufficient funds were allocated to retrain workers displaced by NAFTA and too many barriers to access of those funds were erected. That has been an issue in other agreements as well and has been the driving force behind the angry anti trade voices supporting GOP candidates like Trump and left of center candidates like Sanders. The primary driving force is not environmental regulations, working conditions or workers rights in foreign countries — it is the displacement of our own workers to outsourcing and automation. If we refuse to address those issues, we will only make the problems worse politically. Leaving people behind via trade or technological progress is not progressive. Hillary must be asked how she would slow the displacement of American workers so they don’t get left behind by free trade or exponential technological advancement.

Republicans who are largely free trade and don’t believe in worker protections may be satisfied with platitude and shouting that they are going to protect the angry white male blue collar voters that make up their base. However, they are content with kicking that same base to the curb when governing. Democrats try to hold themselves to a higher standard so it is imperative that we press Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as “the adults in the room” to get them away from their slogans, talking points, and platitudes. They need to talk about how they will implement a 21st century global trade policy that will continue to uplift millions of individuals in developing nations out of poverty and assist those displaced or left behind by the pace of change in the long term. We need to become the party that promised to help people find that education, that job, and that opportunity that would allow them to move up the economic ladder and make a better for our children and our children’s children.

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