In Friday's column, the New York Times' Paul Krugman argued that although he generally approves of the forthrightness with which the Obama administration has dealt with economic issues, when it comes to international trade and investment, the president deserves a failing grade.
Especially, he wrote, on the subject of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the quasi-secret deal that the administration has teamed up with Republican Congressman Paul Ryan (W) to push through the House. "[t]he selling of the 12-nation Pacific Rim pact has the feel of a snow job," he argued. "Officials have evaded the main concerns about the content of a potential deal; they’ve belittled and dismissed the critics; and they’ve made blithe assurances that turn out not to be true."
Krugman added that "[t]he administration's main analytical defense of the trade deal came earlier this month, in a report from the Council of Economic Advisers," which would have been adequate, had not the report simply extolled the virtues of free trade, "which was irrelevant to the question at hand."
As I see it, the big problem here is one of trust.
International economic agreements are, inevitably, complex, and you don’t want to find out at the last minute — just before an up-or-down, all-or-nothing vote — that a lot of bad stuff has been incorporated into the text. So you want reassurance that the people negotiating the deal are listening to valid concerns, that they are serving the national interest rather than the interests of well-connected corporations.
Instead of addressing real concerns, however, the Obama administration has been dismissive, trying to portray skeptics as uninformed hacks who don’t understand the virtues of trade. But they’re not: the skeptics have on balance been more right than wrong about issues like dispute settlement, and the only really hackish economics I’ve seen in this debate is coming from supporters of the trade pact.
It’s really disappointing and disheartening to see this kind of thing from a White House that has, as I said, been quite forthright on other issues. And the fact that the administration evidently doesn’t feel that it can make an honest case for the Trans-Pacific Partnership suggests that this isn’t a deal we should support.