Spitzer, Seoul, and Wall Street

Eliot Spitzer, who occasionally publishes over at Slate, wrote yesterday about President Obama’s “disastrous Asia trip” and decried America’s fall from grace as a world leader. The culprit? Wall Street. Pretend you’re shocked.

First, he writes that South Korea rejected a “reasonably standard and straightforward trade pact.” That isn’t quite what happened. Rather than Korea, the U.S. [has, for a few years now] rejected a reasonably standard and straightforward trade pact by failing to approve an already negotiated trade agreement. Obama went to Korea on behalf of the domestic auto industry in an attempt to negotiate increased access to the South Korean auto market on behalf of the UAW, etc. Here is a good summary on why Koreans are unlikely to be buying many American automobiles, and why the KORUS-FTA is a very good deal for the United States.

Ironically, one complaint from the auto industry was that Korean regulatory requirements for auto emissions and fuel economy were too restrictive. Normally the standard union opposition to free trade is that they don’t want to hurt the little guy in foreign countries where labor and environmental standards are often lower. One might think in this case that they’d be thrilled that Korea has more stringent environmental regulations for their automobiles than the United States does. Except that they weren’t thrilled, and Obama still attempted to renegotiate the agreement despite South Korea making it very clear that there would be no more negotiations.

This would seem to dispel any illusion that unions, etc. actually care about the little guy. They care about the American “little guy” (e.g., their dues-paying members, constituents) — where the American little guy is richer and healthier than 90 percent of the rest of the world — and will actively seek policies that do not allow the actual little guy the ability to improve his life.

Back to Spitzer. He is frustrated that the the United States’ alleged fall from grace has led to all sorts of problems, from the failure to succeed in bullying other countries into accepting our one-sided trade terms, to international support for China to revalue its currency, and a failure to get the G20 to “agree to anything more than vapid words about trade.” Spitzer doesn’t elaborate much on this, as the Asia introduction was nothing but another excuse for Spitzer to write an article attacking Wall Street. Read the rest if you’d like to hear Spitzer jump through hoops in order to explain how Wall Street is solely responsible for all the problems America faces today.

Don’t hold your breath on the further liberalization of trade anytime soon, recent polling data indicates that fewer and fewer people believe free trade agreements help the United States. Given the recession and the new understanding in America that some of these other countries are no longer third world watering holes, it seems that Made-in-America might make a comeback.

Photo credit: GreenDominee’s flickr photostream.