The Therapy Sessions
Monday, June 27, 2005
Betraying Central America
A quarter-century ago, Daniel Patrick Moynihan noted how it was the Republicans who had become a party of ideas, while the Democrats' philosophical foundation was "deeply eroded." But even Moynihan would be surprised by the bankruptcy in the Democrats' current intellectual account.
Take trade and Central America. The status quo there is widespread poverty. The Bush administration has proposed doing something about it: a free-trade agreement encompassing five Central American countries plus the Dominican Republic.
It's a no-brainer. If we have learned anything from the last 25 years in China, India, Chile and other centers of amazing economic growth, it is that open markets and free trade are the keys to pulling millions, indeed hundreds of millions of people, out of poverty. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is a chance to do the same for desperately poor near-neighbors.
You would think this treaty would be a natural for the Democrats, who have always portrayed themselves as the party with real sympathy for the poor - contrast to the Republicans, who have hearts of stone, if they have any at all. The Democratic Party has always seen itself as the tribune of the oppressed of the Third World and deeply distressed by the fact that "the United States by far is the stingiest nation in the world for development assistance or foreign aid," to quote Jimmy Carter, former Democratic president, current Democratic saint.
You would think, therefore, that Democrats would be for CAFTA. Not so. CAFTA is in great jeopardy because Democrats have turned against it. Whereas a decade ago under President Clinton, 102 House Democrats supported NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), that number for CAFTA is down to 10 or fewer. In a closed-door meeting this month, reports Jonathan Weisman of the Washington Post, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi put heavy-handed pressure on all congressional Democrats to observe party discipline in killing the treaty.
Arguing free trade is particularly tiresome because it is the only proposition in politics that is mathematically provable. It was proved by British economist David Ricardo in 1817 that even if one country is more efficient in producing two items, trade between two countries based on the relative efficiency of production is always beneficial to both countries.