Krugman: Obama’s big trade deal shows he's “weirdly out of touch"

The New York Times columnist says the economic case for the Trans-Pacific Partnership is "weak"

Published February 28, 2014 2:28PM (EST)

Paul Krugman                                                                                                                                                                     (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
Paul Krugman (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

The Obama administration is having a very difficult time convincing Democrats in Congress to support its big trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And with his latest column, the New York Times' Paul Krugman just made the job a little bit harder.

While the award-winning economist and best-selling author's newest isn't a complete assault on the TPP, it's not much of an endorsement, either. "It’s far from clear that the T.P.P. is a good idea," Krugman writes. "I am in general a free trader, but I’ll be undismayed and even a bit relieved if the T.P.P. just fades away."

Krugman doesn't think the TPP is terrible or dangerous. He writes that, for all its flaws, the TPP's opposition is often "hugely overblown." But he doesn't think it's a clear win for American interests, either, writing that "the T.P.P. wouldn’t make that much difference." The deal, he says, will mainly concern intellectual property rights, which "has nothing at all to do with classical arguments for free trade."

Of more interest to Krugman is why the Obama administration is spending so much time and energy on the TPP instead of better policies and more pressing concerns. He hazards a guess:

My guess is that we’re looking at a combination of Beltway conventional wisdom — Very Serious People always support entitlement cuts and trade deals — and officials caught in a 1990s time warp, still living in the days when New Democrats tried to prove that they weren’t old-style liberals by going all in for globalization. Whatever the motivations, however, the push for T.P.P. seems almost weirdly out of touch with both economic and political reality.

So don’t cry for T.P.P. If the big trade deal comes to nothing, as seems likely, it will be, well, no big deal.

By Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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