Bipartisan Bayh

Even though I’m still muttering profanities under my breath about his vote for the bankruptcy bill, Hoosier Dem Senator Evan Bayh has just introduced a bill that actually intelligently addresses a trade issue that needs a policy update. David Sirota sums it up nicely:

There is a lot of nasty debate between free traders and fair traders these days, especially with news of the U.S.'s record-breaking trade deficits. but it is nice to see that at least some Members of Congress are trying to find common ground on the issue. Check out this press release from Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Evan Bayh (D-IN). As it notes, while massive government subsidies are illegal under current trade law because they create unfair advantages, "current trade law does not allow the U.S. to enforce these laws on countries that traditionally operate under a state-controlled economy." The Bayh-Collins bill would "update the law to take into account the fact that many of these countries, like China, now allow their manufacturing industries to operate as relatively free markets engaged in international trade."

Blogger Matt Yglesias, who I usually agree with on stuff, uses an unfair stereotype, claims this bill is "anti-trade" and then says he's against it because he wants to buy cheap goods. What he seems to ignore - or just not care about - is the unfair disadvantage foreign subsidies create for American workers and businesses. The fact is, the very least our trade system requires is a fair playing field.

He also goes on to say that "unfairly cheap goods and services are exactly the kind of goods and services I want to be buying." He's allowed to have an opinion, of course, but I disagree - I don't want to be buying goods made artificially cheap because dictatorial regimes like China and others abuse trade law and subsidize these products in order to usurp economic power and put American workers out on the street.

This is real progress - members of both political parties, and even some free-trade Democrats, are finally starting to realize that the trade playing field needs to be made fair for American workers. Sure, this isn't a panacea for all the problems that come with free trade, and the free-trade vs. fair trade debate will continue, but this is a very good step.

I agree with Sirota that there’s no incentive for me to save a few bucks in exchange for hurting American workers. (Nor, as it often the case, in exchange for the mistreatment or exploitation of foreign workers.)

Recently, Robert Reich wrote a column for the New York Times, in which he addressed the sometime conflict between our values and our consumer habits. In part, he wrote:
[T]he choices we make in the market don't fully reflect our values as workers or as citizens. I didn't want our community bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., to close (as it did last fall) yet I still bought lots of books from In addition, we may not see the larger bargain when our own job or community isn't directly at stake. I don't like what's happening to airline workers, but I still try for the cheapest fare I can get.

The only way for the workers or citizens in us to trump the consumers in us is through laws and regulations that make our purchases a social choice as well as a personal one. A requirement that companies with more than 50 employees offer their workers affordable health insurance, for example, might increase slightly the price of their goods and services. My inner consumer won't like that very much, but the worker in me thinks it a fair price to pay. Same with an increase in the minimum wage or a change in labor laws making it easier for employees to organize and negotiate better terms.
And that’s exactly the point that gets missed when one allows a bargain basement price to trump everything that went into that tasty pricing. Your inner consumer might be telling you how good it feels, but the worker in you should know better.

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