Surprise! Thomas Friedman is in favor of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). I‘m kidding about the surprise, of course: Friedman’s support for the TPP was entirely predictable. The TPP, as I argued in my earlier post, isn’t mainly about trade; it’s about restricting governments’ ability to regulate international business. But Friedman, a starry-eyed cheerleader for globalization, has never shown more than a glimmer of understanding of the downsides of unfettered international capitalism. It’s interesting nevertheless to read Friedman’s column; its emptiness is revealing. He says that he’s not going to argue that the TPP will be good for the US economy—he’ll leave that to the Obama administration. (The administration has not done a good job at that, but you can’t blame them, since they have so little evidence on their side.)
The big reason we need the TPP, Friedman says, is that it’s important that we, the US and our friends, write the rules of the international economy. Otherwise, we’ll have global disorder, or else China will write the rules. So, you might naturally ask: what rules is Friedman advocating? Significantly, Friedman’s column contains no specific discussion of the actual voluminous content of the agreement. What is important to Friedman apparently is that there be a TPP and we be the principal author. That’s it. Just what do the hundreds of TPP rules do? Friedman has nothing to say about that. The utter lack of specificity in Friedman’s column reminded me of another recent commentary in the Times—by former G.W. Bush chief economic adviser Greg Mankiw. Mankiw’s pro-TPP column was nothing more than a mini-lecture on the virtues of free trade and the evils of protectionism; again, no specific reference to anything the TPP does.
Now, you could say that Friedman and Mankiw’s lack of specificity is understandable, since they don’t know everything they need to know about the TPP. The draft agreement indeed remains shrouded in secrecy, despite President Obama’s disingenuous denial. But, enough has leaked out to provide a basis for discussion, a discussion that Friedman and Mankiw evidently aren’t interested in joining.
But Friedman is right: the TPP really is about maintaining US leadership of the world economy. If that objective means making the world safer for and more hospitable to American business, Friedman would see no problem. But that really is the problem at the core of the TPP: an agreement written largely by and for US business is not necessarily an agreement that serves the interests of the people of the US, or of the world.