Is Obama better on globalization?

I’ve previously reported on speculations that Obama is more of a free trader than Clinton. At the Guardian, Daniel Koffler argues that friends of markets, domestic and international, should be attracted to Obama:

Obama’s language of personal choice and incentive is a reflection of the ideas of his lead economic advisor, Austin Goolsbee, a behavioural economist at the University of Chicago, who agrees with the liberal consensus on the need to address concerns such as income inequality, disparate educational opportunities and, of course, disparate access to healthcare, but breaks sharply from liberal orthodoxy on both the causes of these social ills and the optimal strategy for ameliorating them…

Goolsbee and Obama’s understanding of the free market as a useful means of promoting social justice, rather than an obstacle to it, contrasts most starkly with the rest of the Democratic field on issues of competition, free trade and financial liberalism…

Whereas Clinton has recently taken to pulling protectionist stunts and rethinking the fundamental theoretical soundness of free trade, and Edwards is behaving like the love child of Huey Long and Pat Buchanan, Obama instinctively supports free trade and grasps the universe of possibilities that globalisation opens up, and seamlessly integrates it into his “audacity of hope” theme. As he remarked in a recent debate: “Globalisation is here, and I don’t think Americans are afraid to compete. And we have the goods and the services and the skills and the innovation to compete anywhere in the world.”

At the moment, Obama’s and Clinton’s positions on trade are roughly equivalent – both deserve credit for taking initial steps toward dismantling the obscene US government-supported agricultural cartels – but the present dynamic is Obama moving more and more in the direction of economic freedom, competition and individual choice, and Clinton wavering if not moving away from it…

Perhaps it goes without saying that Obama’s belief in freedom in labour markets and freedom in capital markets, sets him apart from the Republican field as well as the Democrats. Under ordinary circumstances, one would expect Republicans at least to respect free trade, but alas, they are inconsistent at best. As for freedom in immigration, even in politically propitious times, the modern GOP makes tactical concessions toward its xenophobic wing; in this season of famine, the Republican candidates, even those who have supported immigration in the past, have set up their nominating contest as a race to see who can take the most thuggish and contemptuous possible attitude toward Mexicans (the euphemism for this posture is “out-Tancredo-ing Tancredo”).

Ironically, the nativist lunacy sweeping through the GOP underscores the conceptual connection between free trade and immigration, as mutually supporting pillars of economic freedom. Obama properly understands economic freedom as the best vehicle for accomplishing the historic goals of the left, which Irving Howe and Lewis Coser long ago described as wanting “simply to do away with those sources of conflict which are the cause of material deprivation and which, in turn, help create psychological and moral suffering.”

While this is encouraging, it’s hard to verify claims about candidates’ motivations. And how much sway does Goolsbee really have?

UPDATE: Emmanuel says Obama is tied to the usual protectionist lobbies: “Obama is as protectionist as they wanna be, especially on corn. His rhetoric and actions do not suggest otherwise.”

1 thought on “Is Obama better on globalization?

  1. Emmanuel

    Jonathan, I’ve been posting lightly as of late as I am finishing my thesis, but rest assured that Obama is at least as protectionist as any other candidate still running. In particular, his support for corn-based ethanol is damning. I’ve just put up a post to get this point across.

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