Washington Post Does Front Page Sales Pitch for Trade Agreements, Again

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Saturday, 09 March 2013 09:05

The Washington Post just loves the trade agreements that recent administrations have been pursuing. It is willing to abandon all journalistic standards to help promote them. Post fans may remember back in 2007 when a lead editorial claimed that Mexico's GDP had quadrupled over the prior two decades in an editorial touting the benefits of NAFTA. (Mexico's actual growth over this period was 83 percent.)

Anyhow, it's back in the trade agreement promotion business with a front page article that touts the trade agreements being pursued by the Obama administration as a way to create jobs. The hard sell begins in the very first sentence where it tells readers that these are "free-trade" agreements.

This is of course not true. Formal trade barriers are already very low between the United States and most of the countries with whom we are negotiating trade pacts. These deals are in fact about imposing a set of standardized commercial rules, some of which, like increased patent and copyright protection, are the direct opposite of free trade. It undoubtedly sounds better to call a deal a "free-trade" pact, since most Serious People then think they have to support it, but it does not reflect reality.

It is also absurd to describe these deals as part of a job creation strategy in a period where the economy is operating way below full employment. Incredibly, the article holds up the prospect of opening up Vietnam's economy to trade -- in the same way that China's economy was opened up in the 90s -- as a goal of current negotiations. Needless to say, trade with China has not been a net creator of jobs in recent years.

However the whole idea of trade agreements as a way to create jobs is ridiculous on its face. There is an argument for reducing trade barriers to increase economic efficiency (increased patent and copyright protection go in the opposite direction), however this will have minimal impact on job creation.

This would be comparable to selling electricity deregulation as a job creation strategy. If it worked, electricity deregulation would lead to lower electricity prices which would provide clear economic benefits, but the impact on employment would be trivial. 

The same is true with trade agreements as every intro textbook shows. It is understandable that the Obama administration would want to mislead the public to better promote its trade agenda. But real newspapers are not supposed to assist in this effort.