A 'Tea Party' on Trade Policy?

Article excerpt


The tea party movement plainly has shaken up American politics and economic policymaking. Will international economic policy be next?

From its early 2009 inception, the tea party has been practically synonymous with free-market absolutism. And certainly the Washington operators who have funded much tea-party activity - such as former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey - were expecting the movement to fuel a push-back against the hypergovernment they accused both major parties of building.

Yet many and possibly most tea-party activists have voiced support for at least two major economics-related exceptions to government minimalism.

The first, of course, entails the pro-amnesty open-borders immigration policy long pushed by Republican establishmentarians in and out of government. The second entails the outsourcing-focused trade policies so dear to the hearts and wallets of mainstream Republicans, their big-business and Wall Street supporters, and many Democrats.

Major tea-party qualms about open borders trade policies initially surfaced in a poll released in June by the steel industry's Alliance for American Manufacturing. Conducted by prominent Democratic and Republican polling firms, the survey found that tea-party supporters generally favor strong, explicitly pro-manufacturing government policies, including pro-manufacturing trade policies - a position that clashes loudly with libertarians' strong opposition to government picking winners and losers. Indeed, nearly as many tea-party supporters as Americans overall (78 percent versus 81 percent) favor a national manufacturing strategy - including trade policies - to help support manufacturing in the U.S.

Just 27 percent of tea-party supporters endorse doing whatever is necessary to revitalize manufacturing. But just 39 percent of the general public backs this open-ended proposal. More important, however, fully 57 percent of tea-party supporters - compared with 47 percent of the general public - agree that manufacturing should be helped but only if government's role is limited to incentives and trade policy.

Libertarian Washington insiders might respond that these tea-party positions dovetail with the traditional trade-policy goal of expanding exports. Yet tea-partiers agree more strongly than the general public that Washington should stop unfair trade practices, illegal subsidies and enforce environmental and labor standards - proposals that are anathema to libertarian outsourcers.

Further, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey published last month showed that 61 percent of tea partiers say trade agreements have hurt the United States - fully 8 percentage points higher than the result for the general public.

Talk and even responses to sophisticated surveys, however, can be cheap. Will tea-party supporters actually send these messages actively and forcefully to politicians? …