Cornyn brutally attacks strawman in op-ed

by Michael Stumo

Senator John Cornyn, writing in an op-ed yesterday, vigorously – and oddly – rebutted anti-trade deal arguments that nobody actually makes.

In the Houston Chronicle (subscription required), Cornyn wrote:

Candidates from both parties have argued that [free trade] this core tenet of capitalism should be completely rewritten, if not entirely erased. The reasoning goes something like this: If we open up our economy and cut trade deals with other countries, we run the risk of sending American jobs overseas.

Supporters of stupid trade deals often resort to straw man arguments.

The so-called typical “attacking a straw man” argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent’s proposition by covertly replacing it with a different proposition (i.e. “stand up a straw man”) and then refuting that false argument (“knock down a straw man”) instead of the original proposition.

Senator Cornyn (or his staffer/ghost writer) starts by assuming trade deals like the 5,500 page Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are free trade. That is untrue because it is global deregulation/reregulation by bureaucrats and their special interest allies.

Then he asserts that free trade is a core tenet of capitalism. But Cornyn does not know his history. The US grew from a backward collection of colonies into the world’s biggest economy during the 1800’s rejecting free trade proponent’s’ prescriptions. US leadership had the choice of buying cheap products from Europe or building their own diverse industrial economy. Thank goodness they chose the latter or we would be a 3rd world country. American decline started with the 1970’s modern free trade era.

The Senator falsely states that the presidential candidates have said: “If we open up our economy and cut trade deals with other countries, we run the risk of sending American jobs overseas.” Neither Clinton nor Trump have said this. They have said the TPP is a bad deal. Trump has said he will negotiate great trade deals. Clinton has voted for trade deals in the past.

The phrase “if we open up our economy” presumes it is closed. Another error. The US dropped its tariffs unilaterally for many, many countries in the 1980’s and 1990’s hoping other countries would follow our “intelligent” lead. In retrospect, this was probably a not-smart action because we got nothing in return but more trade cheating and bigger trade deficits. But to imply that trade agreements open the US economy shows a lack of understanding.

Lastly, zero candidates and zero TPP opponents are against trading with other nations. They want smart, balanced or fair trade rather than trade deals rigged against US industries and workers. They do not want trade deals to incrementally offshore our sovereignty and democratic freedoms to international commissions, tribunals and panels of corporate lawyers. 

Left unsaid is that the US government’s own study said that we will import more than we export if the TPP passes, worsening our trade performance. Left unsaid is that we will lose manufacturing jobs and output rather than gain under the TPP. No acknowledgement was made that the most recent big country trade deal, the one with South Korea, doubled our pre-existing trade deficit making America worse off.

Cornyn’s binary trade vs. no trade fiction is evidence of how the echo chamber of the global elite fails and refuses to grasp the reality of what ordinary voters, workers and business owners face in their everyday lives.

If Cornyn has a real rebuttal of a real argument, presumably he would have written that rebuttal.

We cannot solve America’s economic problems without more intelligent analysis. The goals need to be balancing trade, net creation of good paying jobs, rebuilding America’s productive capacity and smart trade and competitiveness policies (which may or may not include trade deals) that get us there.


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