Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bloomin' Bromides

In one of his split-the-difference, both-parties-have-lost-their-way and I'm-the-statesman-of-the-center feints, Michael Bloomberg positioned himself as a brave supporter of beleaguered free trade in the Financial Times last week.

Bloomberg has proved himself a highly capable executive and a fact-based, analytical policymaker. If I were magically empowered to appoint the next President, I might well choose him. All the more disappointing, then, that his free trade manifesto (America must resist protectionism, 12/11/07) amounts to little more than a collection of anodyne bromides. America "must capitalize on opportunities and confront the challenges" of increased global trade. "Countries that open fair access to new frontiers will be the winners." "We have a responsibility to prepare today's students for tomorrow's economy." Visionary.

If Bloomberg wants to help us truly "confront the challenges" of globalization, he might let us know his thinking on some hard questions: should bilateral free trade agreements between the U.S. and developing countries include stricter labor and environmental standards? Should U.S. tax policy provide incentives for companies to keep or create jobs at home? Should developing countries unconditionally embrace free trade, or protect key industries as Korea and Japan did?

Bloomberg purports to admire both Bush Sr. and Clinton for their courage in supporting free trade in 1992. At that time, it truly did take courage to tell laid off factory workers that the U.S. could not protect them from globalization, but only help them to retool their skills, as Clinton did. But today that's received wisdom, if not achieved policy. If Bloomberg is positioning himself as a presidential contender who tells the unvarnished truth, he'll have to show more 'courage' than he did in this piece.

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