“John M. Culbertson, an economist known for mounting an articulate defense of protectionist economic policy long after the tenets of free trade were de rigueur among his colleagues, died on Sunday, in Madison, Wis. He was 80.”
So read Sunday’s obit in The New York Times, which went on to quote a Culbertson essay in 1986: “The future of the United States depends on whether we can escape from the childish dream world in which ‘free trade’ is The Good Fairy and ‘protectionism’ is The Wicked Witch of the West.”
The first line of the next paragraph of the obit said it all: “Unable to find publishers for his books …” Culbertson, author of a major college textbook, “Money and Banking,” could not find anyone to publish his patriotic dissent on free trade.
Orwell spoke of the “smelly little orthodoxies” of his age, and this intolerant free-trade cult is one of ours. What has it produced?
Republicans promised us free trade would cut government, as taxes and regulations must be cut to keep products competitive. But government has exploded. Europe’s Common Market gave birth to a Frankenstein they call the EU â€“ a transnational monstrosity with a legal code of 80,000 pages that is swallowing up the once-free nations of Europe.
As every national economy â€“ Bismarck’s Germany or Hamilton’s America â€“ gives birth to a national government, a global economy must end in global government. That is why international socialism has signed on. Has the Right lost its principles â€“ or its mind?
The Financial Times’ Amity Shlaes scourges the AFL-CIO for “fast moving leftward on trade.” But protectionism was always championed by men of the right â€“ Washington, Hamilton, Madison, Clay, Lincoln, McKinley, T.R., Cal Coolidge. It is the left’s icons â€“ Wilson and FDR â€“ who gave us free trade. And that ideology was spawned by 19th-century scribblers and utopians like John Stuart Mill and Richard Cobden, none of whom was a Man of the Right.
The Republican House has now buckled to Bush’s demand for “fast track.” But what is fast track, but abject surrender by Congress of all rights to amend trade treaties? Is abdication to the executive by Congress what we now mean by conservatism? When did it become so?
What has 30 years of free trade produced but 30 trade deficits totaling $2 trillion, a hollowed-out manufacturing base that now employs 13 percent of U.S. workers â€“ where in 1960 it employed 26 percent â€“ and a vast disparity between workers’ wages and corporate salaries? Real wages for working Americans have hardly risen in 30 years.
Last year, free trade gave America a merchandise trade deficit of $450 billion. Our pre-NAFTA trade deficit of $10 billion with Canada and Mexico now exceeds $90 billion. Our total trade deficit with China in the Clinton decade reached $400 billion, a transfer of wealth, factories and technology that has made China a threat to America.
U.S. companies like GM, Ford and Boeing now call themselves “global companies,” and their loyalty to America is dying as fast as their allegiance to their workers. And there are the hidden costs.
Republicans had to prostitute themselves to vote vast sums for the IMF to bail out bankrupt regimes, so those corrupt regimes could keep paying back rich investors who preferred to risk their capital outside the United States. Meanwhile, Congress lets our great industries like steel and textiles die in the name of “free trade” principles.
Are we more secure in this free-trade world? Why, then, the wild panic when Asian nations began to default in 1997? But one country never caught the Asian flu, and one country still grows at 9 percent. Protectionist China remembers what the West has forgot: Every nation to rise to world power â€“ Britain before 1850, the United States before 1914, Japan after 1945 â€“ rejected free trade to put the nation first.
There are other hidden costs: the enormous subsidies to keep our farmers alive, now that the price of their produce does not cover their costs. Broken families, dying towns, shattered communities from what our think-tank welfare queens hail as “creative destruction” â€“ i.e., U.S. factories shutting down here and opening up abroad.
America herself is being sacrificed on the altar of this Moloch. For the ultimate cost of this free-trade addiction will be the loss of America’s industrial base, the loss of our economic independence and, finally, the loss of our national sovereignty. Then the global parasites will have it all.
I didn’t know Culbertson. But from his brief obituary, he had common sense, a love of country and intellectual courage â€“ as rare in politics as they are among the academics who scorned him.