Until October 7th, I had planned to vote for Hillary Clinton. I was disturbed by Hillary’s use of distorted facts, out-of-context quotations, and bogus economics to erroneously claim that the rich are greedy, Wall Street executives are robber-barons, and Republicans are racist and sexist. But I overlooked this as mere campaign rhetoric without policy implications, not much different from the hyperbolic denunciations of most candidates. Even her rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, though disappointing, could be ignored as a symbolic, but insignificant gesture. Besides, Hillary was constrained by her need to resist Sanders’s pernicious pull. My opinion changed with her condemnation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, after which I found myself struggling to support her. Not only did she renounce an obviously beneficial deal, but also she did so purely for selfish political reasons.
The TPP is good for America and Americans. Economists almost universally recognize that free trade, and past free trade deals specifically, benefit the United States. The TPP is estimated to increase the GDP of the countries involved by almost $400 billion, much of which will benefit the United States. As Hillary Clinton herself said at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2010, the TPP, then in development, will “help create new jobs and opportunities here at home.” Furthermore, still in the words of Secretary Clinton, this time in Australia in 2012, “this TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements…the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field…[and] build[s] in strong protections for workers and the environment." The unusually strong labor and environmental regulations that Hillary elucidated should appeal to the left.
Progressives argue that increased free trade will depress wages, benefitting the 1% at the expense of the poor. This opinion is not only opposed by an overwhelming majority of economists, but also by Hillary herself, who, speaking in Singapore in 2012, stated that the TPP will produce “better jobs with higher wages.” In an economy where incomes are stagnating, free trade could provide a crucial stimulus to employment and wages.
Even if American workers were harmed by the TPP, however, outsized benefits to workers in lower-income countries will more than offset these costs. After all, a textile job lost in America means multiple textile jobs created in Vietnam, where even a small salary can alter the lives of impoverished Vietnamese. It is simply unjustified for the United States, with its immense prosperity, to deny economic development to the developing world. From a humanitarian perspective, therefore, free trade is good.
The TPP is also good from a strategic perspective. Under Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, the United States embraced a pivot to East Asia in an effort to engage with one of the most economically vital regions of the world and counter China’s rising influence there. There are two facets to this strategy: military engagement and economic engagement. As someone who, like the left, believes that the United States should conserve its military might for future crises rather than profligately expand the military now, I believe that economic engagement should be the country’s focus. In the words of Secretary Clinton, speaking at a Foreign Policy Group forum in 2012, “Much of the attention so far has been on America's increasing military engagement. But it's important that we also emphasize…America's expanding economic leadership in the region, [including] new trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership." The TPP also strengthens the East Asian bulwark against China. It reinforces American alliances and increases American power in the region by making East Asian economies more dependent on the US; it forces global businesses to follow American rules, as opposed to Chinese rules, all while growing the US economy and creating good jobs. If trade is not utilized to increase American influence in the region, we are compelled to either assert American influence solely with a preponderance of military force or abandon the most strategically vital region in the world to China, an aggressive, authoritarian, and rapidly growing power.
It is most likely for these reasons that Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, was a champion of the TPP, pitching it or touting its benefits a total of forty-five times. The fact that Hillary had been such a staunch supporter of the TPP when speaking to think tanks and in foreign countries but is now opposing the agreement as a candidate, raises profound concerns. When all Hillary had to consider was American interests, she supported the agreement; when she had consider poll numbers, she changed her mind. Although politicians’ views should sometimes evolve, they should do so based on new information or a new understanding of the issue itself, not based on changes in opinion polls. The TPP that was signed is not much different from the TPP that Hillary once advocated for, and the United States needs a president who is willing to fight for what he or she knows to be right for the country, even if the majority of people, or politically important special interests oppose those beliefs. Our country is a republic because we believe that elected representatives are often better equipped to make policy decisions than the people at large. The debate over free trade involves complex and esoteric economic analysis beyond the comprehension of the general public. Politicians should therefore defer to experts, as Hillary did before her campaign began, rather than simply rely on majority opinion to make decisions.
Deferring to an uninformed populace is equally deplorable for a presidential candidate as deferring to a specific special interest. Hillary’s opposition to TPP, is not only based on recent polling but is a plea for special-interest support at the expense of the people’s welfare. Sliding in the polls to Bernie Sanders, she came out against the Keystone XL pipeline to appease environmentalists. (This was another disgraceful moment in the Clinton campaign, as Keystone benefits America without harming the environment.) However, this turnaround alienated unions that opposed Keystone. So, Hillary attempted to appease these labor unions,a key financial and political supporter of democratic candidates, by renouncing the TPP. What the leaders of the AFL-CIO perceive to be good for themselves is not necessarily good for America as a whole, which is the priority of the President. Thus, Hillary altered her position from that which she knew to be right to that which she believed to be politically expedient.
If Hillary is willing to reverse her stance and repudiate free trade, despite its obvious economic benefits, in favor of populist protectionism, why should we trust her to pursue any sensible economic policies? If she is willing to abandon American allies and responsibilities abroad in favor of currying political favor with special interests, why should we trust her to maintain our commitments abroad? More importantly, why should our allies trust her to uphold American commitments if she is unwilling to assist them, even when doing so helps American interests? Hillary’s rejection of something as sensible as the TPP should profoundly worry Americans that Clinton will be willing to accept inefficient economic policies and an isolationist foreign policy when president.
Perhaps a moderate voter’s reaction to the revelation that Hillary is willing to back any popular opinion, no matter how erroneous or pernicious, should be to vote for a moderate Republican instead. At least Bush, Rubio and Kasich are firm on their stances in the face of shifting poll numbers. At least they agree on the basic principles that economic growth is good, and that American economic and political engagement overseas is crucial for American national security.
The image featured in this article was taken by Brett Weinstein. The original image can be found here.
Adam Chan is a third-year Fundamentals and Economics double major. This summer, he interned at CNN, focusing on the Russia investigation. Previously he was an intern at the R Street Institute, a think-tank in DC and an extern at the Department of the Interior. At the Gate, Adam was a Senior Writer in his first year and the Opinion Editor last year. On campus, Adam is also President of the UChicago Political Union, is Vice President of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, and has been a Team Leader at the institute of Politics. He loves studying political philosophy and history, enjoys playing card and board games with friends, traveling, and eating exotic food.