Dems appease left-wing authoritarians

Well, just shoot me. Economic growth is stalling, inflation is rising, commodity prices are shooting up, the dollar is falling and a new bomb seems to go off in the credit markets every morning. In the midst of all this cheery news, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are reaching deep into the moldy cupboard of left-wing populism in search of remedies to cram down the nation's throat.

Judging by their campaigns, we're expected to believe: that the best fix for the health-care system is more government; that the economy is crying out for higher taxes; that giving unions more power will make everyone prosperous, and that incessant business-bashing will encourage more investment rather than drive capital offshore.

Given the extreme stands they’ve taken, Obama and Clinton may find it tough to tack to the center after the primaries.

Consider the issue of trade. They both make the North American Free Trade Agreement sound like some sort of economic plague. During the Ohio primary, they competed to see who hated it most.

By all means, let's shrink in horror of that ghastly monster, NAFTA. Never mind that in the decade after the agreement, real average hourly earnings rose by 10 percent, manufacturing output soared, and by the end of the 1990s unemployment was at its lowest rate since the 1970s.

Which is why both Clinton and Obama are probably kidding. An Obama aide has been caught telling the Canadian government that his candidate's NAFTA-bashing was merely for "political positioning." And last week a similar story popped up regarding Clinton.

What's going on here is a good old-fashioned, no-holds-barred pander for the union vote. The unions hate NAFTA, and for perfectly rational reasons. Unions, by definition, are monopolies. Unions exist to curb competition for their members. Trade increases competition, therefore to unions, trade is toxic.

But that's why free trade is a good deal for the nation as a whole. Foreign competition keeps American business on its toes. It delivers more choices and lower prices to consumers, a benefit that’s especially important to those with low incomes.

The unions are also clamoring for passage of something they call the Employee Free Choice Act, a pernicious little bill with a grand Orwellian name.

Clinton and Obama are both for it, even though it would wipe out the secret ballot in elections that certify union bargaining units. That would allow union officials to pressure workers into creating bargaining units by signing "check cards" instead of voting privately. Some "free choice."

The card-check bill would mean a lot more unionized workplaces, so let's suggest a more honest name: An Act to Drive American Capital and Jobs Offshore.

And if you happen to be in the business of delivering to market a particular resource much in demand these days — oil — well, too bad. Both Obama and Clinton have whacked Big Oil, along with the usual corporate villains such as drug companies. But Hillary took it a step farther.

After Exxon posted mammoth profits last year, she said she would "take those profits" and put them in a "strategic energy fund" that will develop smart energy alternatives.

Well, now. Stop and think about that for a second. The government would take oil-company profits, and put the money "in a fund." And voila! Smart energy alternatives will emerge, no doubt to the amazement of all? All right, show's over: Who actually believes this?

Leave aside the wonderfully innocent notion that government could accomplish such a thing. It seems not to have occurred to Clinton that once you "take those profits," the capital used to produce them will almost instantly seek more productive uses in industries other than oil. So you’d end up with a lot less oil and higher prices at the pump.

Since the mid-1980s, the economy has been buoyed by lower taxes, freer trade and limited regulation. This mix — the policy equivalent of the golden goose — would face a mortal threat if either of these candidates won in November.


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