Brexit, Trump, Sanders

If you Google “Trump” and “Brexit” you’ll get an avalanche of articles suggesting that the explanation of the UK’s vote to leave the EU is an expression of populist outrage, resurgent nationalism, and an admixture of xenophobia to boot. That might not be accurate. Walker’s post highlighted an alternative view.

But let’s roll with it for a minute. Let’s say the headlines like Victory For Brexit ‘Leave’ Shows Us Why Trump Is Succeeding In America or Brexit Should Be a Warning About Donald Trump are on to something. If so, then what?

Well, in that case then we need to add someone else to the list: Bernie Sanders. Because–on issues of nationalism, protectionism, and even xenophobia–Trump and Sanders are reading from the same script.

What am I talking about? Well, let’s look at Sanders’ take on NAFTA.

NAFTA, supported by the Secretary, cost us 800,000 jobs nationwide, tens of thousands of jobs in the Midwest. Permanent normal trade relations with China cost us millions of jobs. Look, I was on a picket line in early 1990’s against NAFTA because you didn’t need a PhD in economics to understand that American workers should not be forced to compete against people in Mexico making 25 cents an hour. … And the reason that I was one of the first, not one of the last to be in opposition to the TPP is that American workers … should not be forced to compete against people in Vietnam today making a minimum wage of $0.65 an hour. Look, what we have got to do is tell corporate America that they cannot continue to shut down. We’ve lost 60,000 factories since 2001. They’re going to start having to, if I’m president, invest in this country — not in China, not in Mexico.

Sound familiar? It should. Sanders might stay away from some of the more visceral rhetoric that Trump revels in–he doesn’t slander Mexicans as rapists or promise to build a wall–but his targets (Chinese and Mexican workers) are also two of Trump’s favorite targets and his hawkish stance on trade wars matches The Donald’s.

Of course, that isn’t the only similarity. His grasp of reality is equally as tenuous as Trump’s on this issue, as this article from the Foundation for Economic Education elucidates with charts like this one:


As Daniel Bier puts it:

Not content to merely keep Mexicans from working in the United States (where, thanks to US capital and infrastructure, they could earn three or four times more than they make in Mexico), Bernie Sanders now objects to the right of Mexicans to work in Mexico, if they dare to sell goods and services to Americans — or, God forbid, try tocompete with American firms.

On the specific topic of economic policy, how is this different from Trump? How is it different from the populist outrage that purportedly led the UK out of the EU?

Then again, we could just ask Bernie Sanders how he feels about Trump’s policies. From Slate:

Daily News: Another one of your potential opponents has a very similar sounding answer to, or solution to, the trade situation—and that’s Donald Trump. He also says that, although he speaks with much more blunt language and says, and with few specifics, “Bad deals. Terrible deals. I’ll make them good deals.”

So in that sense I hear whispers of that same sentiment. How is your take on that issue different than his?

Sanders: Well, if he thinks they’re bad trade deals, I agree with him. They are bad trade deals. But we have some specificity and it isn’t just us going around denouncing bad trade. In other words, I do believe in trade. But it has to be based on principles that are fair. So if you are in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 65¢ an hour, or you’re in Malaysia, where many of the workers are indentured servants because their passports are taken away when they come into this country and are working in slave-like conditions, no, I’m not going to have American workers “competing” against you under those conditions. So you have to have standards. And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States. [emphasis changed from the Slate article]

Jordan Weissmann writes:

It is one thing to argue that we should not do business with nations that actively manage or manipulate their currencies… It’s also entirely reasonable to support workers’ rights to unionize abroad or push for stricter environmental protections… But a blanket rule against trade with low-wage nations is different.

Weissmann is right. Sanders’ and Trump’s position makes no sense, morally or economically. Economically, a major benefit (maybe the key benefit) of trade is to allow countries to specialize where they have a comparative advantage. If there’s no comparative advantage and no specialization… what does he think trade is for? And, morally, the idea that you’re going to help people who earn very low wages by taking their jobs away is questionable. It’s about as useful as helping the homeless by making sure they can’t sleep where you can see them.

But I digress. The main point of this post is not to enumerate all the ways in which protectionism is bad. We’d be here all day.[ref]And note: there are exceptions to that general rule.[/ref] The point is to note just how similar Trump and Sanders are on these matters, and to also observe–based on the results of the Brexit vote–that these forces might be globally ascendant.

In many ways, we–all of us humans–are on the threshold of a brighter future. Never has global poverty fallen so rapidly. Never have so many been lifted out of the depths of abject deprivation.[ref]See Walker’s and my article for details.[/ref] Never has the promise of prosperity and peace and freedom been brighter for the entire planet. But–if the Brexit vote and the populist movements of Sanders and Trump are any indication–we might just slam that door shut instead of walking through it, and return to the tribalist, zero-sum mentality that treats trade as a competition to win instead of a policy of mutual benefit.

It’s not clear how far down that road we’ll walk, but we already know where it ends.

5 thoughts on “Brexit, Trump, Sanders”

  1. If your point is that Sanders, Trump and now Brexit are symptoms of people trying to make sense out of a crazy world you would be correct. But you overlook the dynamic and miss what people are really saying through the ballot box particularly in the case of Brexit. UK just avoided outright dictatorship by an unelected Troika by choosing to leave. Yes but there is an elected EU parliament people will say. Which is true. But if that is the end of inquiry a person will miss a lot. Does this parliament have any real power. Who makes the rules and regs in the EU? It’s not parliament. What is if a country’s elected parliament disagrees with the EU Troika? Who has the power? The answer is not the sovereign nation’s elected leaders. What Hitler could not do with a world war, corrupt politicians are accomplishing by wooing the people with free stuff, safety and if necessary scaremongering. The same is becoming more and more true in the US. Congress is almost irrelevant to the Executive Branch. The Supreme Court has more authority than ever before. Many cannot articulate it but they know something is desperately wrong with our country and almost every country in the world. We do not leave in a free nation any longer. It is Satan’s political plan which is control everything, provide the look of democracy or like the people have property rights and a say in government but in reality it is anything but, presently.

  2. I know how you feel Nathanial about Mexican illegal immigration but I’ll express my dismay over it anyways. If Hillary is elected this fall, it will be the start of a one party system. ( which you believe it is already). She will do all in her power to get citizenship to the estimated 12-20 million illegals here already and there will be no more red states in American. The next two supreme court picks is the MOST IMPORTANT job of the next president. Trump may be a bad choice but believe it or not, Hillary is a worse choice. If Hillary is elected, there will never be a republican in the white house ever again. The war against the 2nd amendment will accelerate at a breakneck speed. The battle against freedom of religion will be almost as fast. All of these issues and more will be decided by who sits in the next supreme court and not who sits in the white house , but who sits in the white house will decide who sits on the supreme court and who Hillary chooses will be ever worse than Garland who has already stated what he believes the only definition of a militia should be. We are now faced with millions of republican voters who think they are “too sophisticated ” to lower themselves to vote for either candidate. The ramifications of this inaction would be even worse than the 3-5 million evangelical voters who stayed home because Romney was a Mormon.

  3. I think the similarities between Trump and Sanders are usually glossed over if acknowledged at all…but there certainly are a few, though unfortunately it takes the writing of an educated person to fill in the blanks when Trump “describes” his position on something.

    Anyway, despite the similarities on, say, trade (one of the few areas they come close to aligning on) it’s important to keep in mind the spirit of how they might act on their ideas. in short, I’m saying it’d be hard to make a good case (at this point) that Trump wouldnt throw any number of people in another country under the bus, hard, if it meant the slightest good came to American interests. Sanders strikes me, for very good reason, as somebody who might behave a little differently (insert whatever hypothetical trade action or policy that could apply).

    Also, the guy who just shared this mentioned activism, which I see no mention of here. Is it in the other post? I believe this country needs far more activism, not less.

  4. Brett-

    Your comments strike me as pretty far out there. It’s hard to distinguish, for example, why the EU is so different (and so much more evil) than the US. In both cases, the original idea is that you take a bunch of autonomous states (states in the United States, countries in the European Union) and subordinate them under a single, federal system. Obviously the details are very, very different, but if there was one major difference it would be that the EU has substantially less power than the federal government.

    Is the EU a good idea? That’s not up to me to decide. It’s up to the individual, constituent states. It may be that the individual national identities are too distinct–and too worthy of preservation–whereas the individual states that make up the US are more similar and/or not really worth preserving as fully distinct states.

    But there’s definitely no way that I can see that you go straight from a multinational governing body to Hitler. There’s nothing wrong with countries merging, as long as its done following the rule of law and in accordance with the will of the people. And, as Brexit has just shown, the EU is operating within the will of the people. We know that because when some people (e.g. the Brits) decide to opt out: they can. That’s hardly the Fourth Reich.

    The reality is that I just don’t know what to do with a comment that brings Hitler, troikas, and Satan into the conversation from the get go. I think if you look at history, you’ll see that–although the United States faces serious problems and is not necessarily on the right track–we’re a long way from the gulag archipelago.

  5. Chip-

    If the Republican Party can’t appeal to an electorate that is defined by hard work, family values, conservative social views, and high religiosity, then they don’t deserve to win. The Hispanic vote should be our natural allies and–regardless of the legal status of illegal aliens–the legal residents will soon outnumber the conventional, white demographic. This demographic shift is inevitable. Building a wall isn’t going to help in the long run, and will hurt.

    As for the rest of it: I think chances are actually much better that if Trump wins (and I think he has a shot) the GOP will be essentially exiled into the wilderness. It will start with the downballot carnage. In any state that is even remotely purple, having Trump on the ballot is going to lead to otherwise electable Republicans getting ousted. We could very well lose the House and Senate thanks to having Trump on the ballot.

    You’re worried about the Supreme Court nominations and I get that. If someone votes for Trump for that reason, that’s the one reason I can understand. I don’t have a problem with that. But I can’t do it because (1) I don’t trust him on the SCOTUS and (2) if Trump wins at the cost of losing the House and Senate, where does that leave our nominations?

    The GOP can be obstructionist. So can Democrats.

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