Wealthy Frenchman

Monday, May 14, 2007

Divided Over Trade


Nothing divides Democrats like international trade policy. That became clear last week, when the announcement of a deal on trade between Democratic leaders and the Bush administration caused many party activists to accuse the leadership of selling out.

The furor subsided a bit as details about the deal emerged: the Democrats got significant concessions from the Bushies, while effectively giving a go-ahead to only two minor free trade agreements (Peru and Panama). But the Democrats remain sharply divided between those who believe that globalization is driving down the wages of many U.S. workers, and those who believe that making and honoring international trade agreements is an essential part of governing responsibly.

What makes this divide so agonizing is that both sides are right.

Fears that low-wage competition is driving down U.S. wages have a real basis in both theory and fact. When we import labor-intensive manufactured goods from the third world instead of making them here, the result is reduced demand for less-educated American workers, which leads in turn to lower wages for these workers. And no, cheap consumer goods at Wal-Mart aren’t adequate compensation.

So imports from the third world, although they make the United States as a whole richer, make tens of millions of Americans poorer. How much poorer? In the mid-1990s a number of economists, myself included, crunched the numbers and concluded that the depressing effects of imports on the wages of less-educated Americans were modest, not more than a few percent.

But that may have changed. We’re buying a lot more from third-world countries today than we did a dozen years ago, and the largest increases have come in imports from Mexico, where wages are only about 11 percent of the U.S. level, and China, where wages are only 3 percent of the U.S. level. Trade still isn’t the main source of rising economic inequality, but it’s a bigger factor than it was.

So there is a dark side to globalization. The question, however, is what to do about it.

Should we go back to old-fashioned protectionism? That would have ugly consequences: if America started restricting imports from the third world, other wealthy countries would follow suit, closing off poor nations’ access to world markets.

Where would that leave Bangladesh, which is able to survive despite its desperate lack of resources only because it can export clothing and other labor-intensive products? Where would it leave India, where there is, at last, hope of an economic takeoff thanks to surging exports — exports that would be crippled if barriers to trade that have been dismantled over the past half century went back up?

And where would it leave Mexico? Whatever you think of Nafta, undoing the agreement could all too easily have disastrous economic and political consequences south of the border.

Because of these concerns, even trade skeptics tend to shy away from a return to outright protectionism, and to look for softer measures, which mainly come down to trying to push up foreign wages. The key element of the new trade deal is its inclusion of “labor standards”: countries that sign free trade agreements with the United States will have to allow union organizing, while abolishing child and slave labor.

The Bush administration, by the way, opposed labor standards, not because it wanted to keep imports cheap, but because it was afraid that America would end up being forced to improve its own labor policies. So the inclusion of these standards in the deal represents a real victory for workers.

Realistically, however, labor standards won’t do all that much for American workers. No matter how free third-world workers are to organize, they’re still going to be paid very little, and trade will continue to place pressure on U.S. wages.

So what’s the answer? I don’t think there is one, as long as the discussion is restricted to trade policy: all-out protectionism isn’t acceptable, and labor standards in trade agreements will help only a little.

By all means, let’s have strong labor standards in our pending trade agreements, and let’s approach proposals for new agreements with an appropriate degree of skepticism. But if Democrats really want to help American workers, they’ll have to do it with a pro-labor policy that relies on better tools than trade policy. Universal health care, paid for by taxing the economy’s winners, would be a good place to start.


At 12:04 AM, Blogger Marty said...

The outcome here is "Criminal"


The New York Times

May 15, 2007

Justices’ Vote in Death Case Is Close Again, but Differing


WASHINGTON, May 14 — For the fourth time in a row, the Supreme Court on Monday decided a death penalty case by a vote of 5 to 4. But this time, contrary to the court’s overturning of three Texas death sentences last month, a narrow majority went the other way and reinstated the death sentence of an Arizona man who argued that his lawyer had failed to discover or present crucial evidence that could have persuaded the jury to spare his life.

The issue before the justices was a step removed from the ultimate question of whether the defendant, Jeffrey T. Landrigan, had been deprived of his constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel. Rather, the case presented an issue of habeas corpus law: whether the Federal District Court in Phoenix had properly dismissed Mr. Landrigan’s habeas corpus petition as so insubstantial as not even to deserve a hearing.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last year that the district court’s action was an “abuse of discretion” and ordered it to grant Mr. Landrigan a hearing. Arizona appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court.

Writing for the majority on Monday, Justice Clarence Thomas said that Mr. Landrigan’s case was extremely weak and that the district court had been “well within its discretion” to conclude that even with the benefit of a hearing, he would not be able to show that the lawyer’s performance had made a difference to the outcome of the sentencing hearing. Under the Supreme Court’s precedents, such a showing of “prejudice” from a lawyer’s deficient performance is essential to a claim of deprivation of the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the effective assistance of counsel.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said the majority’s conclusion about the weakness of the case was based on “pure guesswork” and a “parsimonious appraisal of a capital defendant’s constitutional right to have the sentencing decision reflect meaningful consideration of all relevant mitigating evidence.”

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy voted with Justice Thomas and the three other conservative justices in the majority: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. In the three Texas death penalty decisions last month, Justice Kennedy provided a crucial fifth vote to the liberal side of the court: Justice Stevens along with Justices David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

But the Texas cases, focusing on jury instructions, presented a different set of issues. Justice Kennedy’s vote in the latest case, far from being inconsistent with his past opinions, was in fact fully consistent with his vote two years ago in a case that presented a similar question of a lawyer’s competence in a death penalty case. In that case, Rompilla v. Beard, a 5-to-4 majority found, over Justice Kennedy’s vigorous dissent, that a defense lawyer’s failure to investigate possible mitigating evidence fell below acceptable standards.

The new element that determined the outcome of the latest case, Schriro v. Landrigan, No. 05-1575, was therefore not Justice Kennedy’s vote but that of the newest member of the court, Justice Alito. As an appeals court judge, he was the author of the decision that the Supreme Court overturned in the Rompilla case. His predecessor on the Supreme Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, voted with the majority to overturn that decision. She had expressed mounting concern about the death penalty in general and about the quality of representation for death-row inmates in particular.

As in the abortion case the court decided last month, in which Justice Alito’s vote with the 5-to-4 majority determined the outcome, the latest case underscores the difference that his presence on the court can be expected to make in various doctrinal areas. With respect to the death penalty in particular, the decision may indicate that the court is turning away from a clear trend of increased scrutiny of the performance of defense lawyers.

Mr. Landrigan had escaped from a prison in Oklahoma, where he was serving a 20-year sentence for murder, when he committed a second murder, this time in Arizona. He was a difficult defendant in the courtroom, repeatedly interrupting his lawyer and making self-incriminating statements. At the sentencing hearing after his conviction, he refused to permit his mother and his former wife to testify on his behalf. When the judge asked if he had anything to say, he replied: “I think if you want to give me the death penalty, just bring it right on. I’m ready for it.”

It was this behavior that Justice Thomas said overshadowed any deficiencies in the defense lawyer’s preparation of the mitigation case. “The mitigating evidence he seeks to introduce would not have changed the result,” Justice Thomas said. Further, he said, the state appeals court, in rejecting Mr. Landrigan’s appeal, reasonably concluded that he had waived the right to present mitigating evidence.

Justice Stevens objected that, as the appeals court found, there was substantial mitigating evidence, including a diagnosis of brain damage and mental illness, that had never come out at the hearing because the lawyer had failed to conduct an adequate investigation of his client’s background. Justice Stevens said the court should not assume that Mr. Landrigan had waived the right to present evidence of which he was unaware. In any event, Justice Stevens said, Mr. Landrigan was “at least entitled to an evidentiary hearing.”

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Boob said...

Yes, restricting imports would have some disastrous effects on other countries, but it might be the only thing to do to ensure the continued existence of the U.S. I took a lifesaving course in my teens, and the first thing they teach you to do, when you approach the distressed victim is keep yourself safe. When you get within reach, the drowning person will grab you in desperation to keep afloat. Your next response, is to punch the hysterical swimmer as hard as you can, so they release you and maintain a safe distance until you can get their cooperation. In some instances, there is nothing you can do to help the victim, and they unfortunately slip beneath the water, but at least you've insured you are not also a victim. More restrictive trade policies would cause hardships on several countries, but no more than the corruption that their leaders inflict on them with their greed and cronyism. The U.S. is in real trouble, and some hard choices have to be made. Before 1972, the majority of the U.S. operating budget came from import fees. Free trade is good only for the wealthy. The average wage in China is $8 a month. It would be much better to bring the world up to our standards, and to let the U.S. sink to theirs. Free trade is among the worst things that have been perpetrated on the American people, and the nation as a whole. The import fees we imposed on Japan and Korea in the post war years, actually raised their standard of living. The miserable conditions imposed on workers toiling for third world manufacturers, will never improve without the motivation of meeting U.S. standards.


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