Bad ideas never die in D.C.

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UNITED NATIONS – Last week, we reviewed how the State Department used trade deals as an instrument of foreign policy in the Cold War. As Sen. Fritz Hollings put it succinctly, “Giving a trade advantage became part of foreign aid.”

Washington’s geopolitical strategists used trade deals to create middle-class societies around the world to contain the spread of communism. We would allow countries to sell their goods in the U.S. even as they blocked our goods from being sold in their protected home markets.

“Our State Department plus the international banks and multi-national giants … push for international welfare under the umbrella of ‘free trade,’” as the good senator Hollings put it.

The Establishment grandees succeeded at building middle-class societies from Thailand to Peru, even as they destroyed large swathes of the American middle class.

After the Berlin Wall fell, the so-called “free trade” policies took on a life of their own. There was no communism to be contained, but policymakers found a new rationale to justify doing the same old thing.

The pashas of American geopolitics came to regard free trade as the key to universal peace and brotherhood. They were similar to the Cobdenites of the 19th century British Empire, who believed naively that trading partners would not go to war with each other. The 20th century and two World War put paid to that notion.

But like old soldiers, bad ideas never die, and unlike old soldiers, this one didn’t fade away, either.

It came back in vogue in the corridors of power that run between Washington and Wall Street.

The new old orthodoxy held that global economic development through “free trade” – managed trade, actually – would instigate a bloodless revolution, toppling tyrannies around the world and ushering in an Aquarian Age of harmony and understanding.

As that cheerleader for globalization, author and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman puts it, globalization will make countries rich, being rich they will become democratic, being democratic, they will become peace loving because we know democracies don’t fight each other.

So it was with the certainty of True Believers that the bipartisan establishment threw open our markets to China, no strings attached.

We would dispense with the annual review of Beijing’s forced abortions, prison labor, organ harvesting and suppression of political and religious dissidents.

We could remedy all this simply and without a fight by encouraging greater investment in and trade with China. It would have an inevitably liberalizing and democratizing effect on the communist regime, we were told.

This doctrine was a combination of laziness, wishful thinking and secular materialism.

Lazy policymakers wouldn’t have to reformulate the prescription they’d been writing for decades: give away our jobs and industries to buy friends around the world. They could keep peddling the same remedy.

Wishful thinking was as rampant among anti-communist hawks as it was among doves. Both camps were made up of the children of the hard generation that fought the wars of the 20th century. They were rich and soft, and could not conceive of anyone wanting more than the material comforts they enjoyed their entire lives.

This spawned the error of secular materialism, the belief that man’s highest aspiration is fulfillment of material needs, the flawed premise in the thinking that led to an error of historic proportions.

The elite policymakers dismissed the faith of their fathers – religion, patriotism, nationalism – as anachronisms that had no place in an era of science and technology. In doing so, they lost sight of that which stirs man’s heart and moves history.

Their policy has failed on all counts.

We made China into an economic superpower, but it has not grown more democratic or peaceful.

Meanwhile, the United States has grown weaker economically. While a strong economy alone is not enough, without a strong economy our position as world leader is less certain.

We must rebalance our one-sided trade policy to fix the damage it has wrought on America.

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