Lou Dobbs Is Winning
David Brooks argues in the New York Times that the nativist, anti-free trade, anti-immigrant message of Lou Dobbs is winning the battle for hearts and minds:
Once there was a majority in favor of liberal immigration policies, but apparently that’s not true anymore, at least if you judge by campaign rhetoric. Once there was a bipartisan consensus behind free trade, but that’s not true anymore, either. Even Republicans, by a two-to-one majority, believe free trade is bad for America, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.
Once upon a time, the fact that hundreds of millions of people around the world are rising out of poverty would have been a source of pride and optimism. But if you listen to the presidential candidates, improvements in the developing world are menacing. Their speeches constitute a symphony of woe about lead-painted toys, manipulated currencies and stolen jobs.
And if Dobbsianism is winning when times are good, you can imagine how attractive it’s going to seem if we enter the serious recession that Larry Summers convincingly and terrifyingly forecasts in yesterday’s Financial Times. If the economy dips as seriously as that, the political climate could shift in ugly ways.
And this is despite the fact, as Brooks notes, that the things Lou Dobbs and his ilk say are demonstrably, provably wrong:
[D]espite the ups and downs of the business cycle, the United States still possesses the most potent economy on earth.
In the World Economic Forum survey, the U.S. comes in just ahead of Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Germany (China is 34th). The U.S. gets poor marks for macroeconomic stability (the long-term federal debt), for its tax structure and for the low savings rate. But it leads the world in a range of categories: higher education and training, labor market flexibility, the ability to attract global talent, the availability of venture capital, the quality of corporate management and the capacity to innovate.
[T]he number of jobs actually lost to outsourcing is small, and recent reports suggest the outsourcing trend is slowing down. They are swamped by the general churn of creative destruction. Every quarter the U.S. loses somewhere around seven million jobs, and creates a bit more than seven million more. That double-edged process is the essence of a dynamic economy.
And it gets better from there. But you don’t here that if you tune into Lou Dobbs’ nativist screed, or pick up the latest doom-and-gloom book from Pat Buchanan. To them, it is precisely the things that makes America strongest — it’s open economy, it’s willingness to accept new immigrants, and it’s openness to international trade and competition — that are leading to its destruction.
It’s the same nonsense we’ve heard before, really, but, this time, it seems to be gaining adherents in the mainstream of American politics. And, Brooks is absolutely right about one thing — if the nativists like Dobbs and Buchanan continue to gain credibility, then things really will get ugly when the next recession rolls around.