This editorial appeared in The (Tacoma) News Tribune.
Many economists and historians believe the Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 – which imposed high tariffs on thousands of foreign imports – helped deepen the Great Depression.
That history bears on Barack Obama's reported plan to nominate Gary Locke as secretary of the Commerce Department.
The former Washington governor could prove an ideal choice, if he stands up to the powerful Democratic constituencies pushing to protect U.S. industries from foreign competition.
Many Democratic lawmakers, under pressure from unions, are hostile to free trade agreements and unrestricted trade in general.
Free trade suffers from a visibility problem. When an American factory is closed down and its work sent to Mexico, the hurt is obvious and easy to package for the nightly news. Trade pacts – like the much-revised North American Free Trade Agreement – get blamed.
In the meantime, though, free trade is broadly expanding American payrolls and bringing down the price of consumer goods. Those benefits turn up only in statistics, though – not in dramatic profiles of laid-off factory workers. Most economists argue that trade produces far more jobs than it eliminates, but the incremental hiring doesn't make good camera fodder.
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