Sanders And Trump On Free Trade: Monkey See, Monkey Do by Joey Clark, Foundation For Economic Education
Having been supposedly vanquished by Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders persists in being a naughty little monkey despite the Democratic party’s best attempts to domesticate him. Sanders has said he will vote for Hillary in November, but he has yet to fully endorse her much to the chagrin of Democratic Party loyalists who find his aloof pose “condescending.” Not to defend Bernie, but Clinton sycophants are the last people who should be making that particular accusation.
However, they do have a point.
Populist See, Populist Do
If Bernie keeps harping on his populist opposition to “free trade,” he will only be helping Donald Trump lead a rare bipartisan reality show of monkey, see monkey do. Just a few weeks ago, this would be of little concern. The party elites thought they had populism on a leash. Then Brexit happened.
The elites in both parties have tried to poo poo the Brexit vote by calling the “Leave” camp every dirty name in their playbook. They have raised the ever-present hobgoblin of global “disorder” both in military and economic terms. They have suggested many people were ignorant of what they were voting on—as though this is somehow something rare for democracy—and have thus called for a mulligan. They have stoked generational antagonism by suggesting that younger Brits in general are angry at their “isolationist, bitter and short-sighted” elders—as though this is the first time the young and the old have disagreed—but “here’s the paradox,” admits the Washington Post, “So few of these young people voted, relatively speaking.”
For once, the ruling-class’ motives here are transparent. Put simply, they have a great deal to lose if the populists win. Decades worth of fragile plans trampled underfoot. Complex networks of cronies usurped by a new set of chums. This would all be really boring stuff for us little people if not for the elites’ overblown reaction. To hear some of them talk, you would think the populists were stringing up politicians and crony bankers from the lamp posts left and right.
All that said, the UK’s decision to leave the EU, right or wrong, should serve as a wake up call to the establishment: listen to the populists in your ranks or pay the price at the polls.
In kind, Bernie Sanders warns the Democratic party in an op-ed for the New York Times that they need to wake up to this populist reality:
“Surprise, surprise. Workers in Britain, many of whom have seen a decline in their standard of living while the very rich in their country have become much richer, have turned their backs on the European Union and a globalized economy that is failing them and their children…
…Could this rejection of the current form of the global economy happen in the United States? You bet it could.
During my campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, I’ve visited 46 states. What I saw and heard on too many occasions were painful realities that the political and media establishment fail even to recognize.”
On the same day Sanders’ op-ed was released, Donald Trump gave a speech on jobs and trade in front of a backdrop of compacted trash, saying in part:
“The legacy of Pennsylvania steelworkers lives in the bridges, railways and skyscrapers that make up our great American landscape.
But our workers’ loyalty was repaid with betrayal.
Our politicians have aggressively pursued a policy of globalization – moving our jobs, our wealth and our factories to Mexico and overseas.
Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache…
…Our friends in Britain recently voted to take back control of their economy, politics and borders.
I was on the right side of that issue – with the people – while Hillary, as always, stood with the elites, and both she and president Obama predicted that one wrong.”
Monkey see, monkey do.
Let Traders Make Us Rich
With all this generational sniping and stoking of resentment towards the “globalized” economy, I cannot help but think of Oscar Wilde’s quip, “The old believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know everything.” Despite being a nominally young man, I have found the terms “old,” “middle-aged,” and “young” to be quite relative. Depending on the context, I have felt myself to be all three—old and gullible, middle-aged and cynical, young and sophomoric—and I am happy to accept this paradox of my own personal history.
But this paradox doesn’t merely apply to my own relative age, but to many issues defining our political age as well.
Take poverty for instance.
When I take the long view of human enrichment, it is apparent I am today able to command wealth beyond the wildest dreams of kings and emperors of old. I am reminded that, as a lower middle class American, I am much richer than most of the world’s poor. I am reminded, contrary to populist narratives proffered by the likes of Bernie Sanders, that abject poverty has been cut in half in the last decade or so. I am reminded by Deirdre McCloskey that more than any economic factor or theory of exploitation or institutional arrangement, our ideas are what enable us to flourish as a species—in particular, our ideas regarding bourgeois virtue and bourgeois equality.
Instill virtue and respect people’s equal liberty to pursue their own betterment through trade and innovation—rather than subservience and propitiation to domineering political authorities—and watch this wondrous party of enrichment continue. Celebrate the creative, enterprising, and tinkering “town folk” of the world by granting them the right to become as rich as they wish, and we will all be made better off in the long run—even the most “wretched” and “least” among us.
Such is what McCloskey calls the “bourgeois deal.”
I am willing to take this deal. I can get behind this sort of politics. This is why I got into political public discourse in the first place—to make my fellows as free as possible so they may pursue a peaceful and prosperous future.
And so it is: when I take the long view, it is apparent we each contain multitudes of classifications that betray the populist, short-term appeals of our politics.
Yet, I am told by demagogues on the right and the left that as part of the struggling, helpless middle-class, I should be resentful towards the wealthy because I am not getting a fair shake. Well, excuse me you mountebanks, but I will be the judge of what is fair and whose hand I wish to shake (though I suspect you would not grant me the liberty to do so). For the life of me, I do not understand why so many Americans like being spoken to in such a tone of voice. Why are so many Americans so quick to believe any politician, populist or otherwise, on how to better their economic station?
So, blame it on my youth if I may sound like an impudent know-it-all, but the populist appeals of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders do not impress me one iota. As much as the prospect of political decentralization is appealing to me, to witness the American people inveighing against