One thing shared by the insurgent/outsider candidates of both parties in the 2016 presidential race is a populist skepticism about the benefits of unfettered free trade. Think Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Meantime, Chamber of Commerce types (and their candidates) on both sides continue insisting that unrestrained trade is the only way to go. Think Jeb Bush and, until recently, Hillary Clinton.
Today the George W. Bush Institute came out with something it calls the “North America Competitiveness Scorecard,” which you could easily imagine the Establishment using to bolster its argument for unencumbered trade and increased globalization.
The scorecard ranks the competitive position of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada (the NAFTA countries) against the world’s other big economic regions. Great news, NAFTA countries: We got a B+! The other major regions scored Bs, a C+ and a D- (that was the bad-boy “Mercosur” countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, etc.). During an event at the Bush Institute this morning unveiling the scorecard—one component of the institute’s Economic Growth program—Margaret Spellings, outgoing president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, said, “We are convinced that the key to America’s prosperity is to open global markets.”
In his brief remarks George W. Bush, the former president (and Jeb’s big brother), agreed with Spellings, ripping the “protectionist sentiment that tends to pervade our society.” Should we worry about ourselves more than anybody else? Bush asked, seeming to allude to the sentiment of candidates like Trump and Sanders. The problem with that U.S.-centric attitude, he went on, is that it doesn’t recognize the nature of the globalized world. While it’s easy to blame problems on somebody else—like China—and say that “we can’t possibly compete with China,” Bush said, “of course we can compete with China! And we can better compete with China when we work together.”
A few minutes later W excused himself, saying as much as he’d like to hang around for the morning’s program, he had an art lesson on his schedule.