Sanders vs. Trump on Trade

At this point, it may not be appropriate to compare anyone to Donald Trump. In terms of overheated rhetoric, he is in a (low) class by himself. Nevertheless, I am struck by the parallels between Bernie Sanders and Trump on trade policy. Of all the remaining presidential candidates, these two are the most strongly opposed to international trade and to international trade agreements. While most of the candidates have something negative to say about trade, Sanders and Trump go the furthest in this regard, and, unfortunately, their views seem to appeal to a lot of people.

As we all know, Trump has been inflammatory on the subject of immigration and trade, which could be taken as a general dislike for and distrust of non-Americans, with a few particular groups demonized. Sanders is a little different. He’s not generally negative about foreigners, but now and then he says things in a way that makes me wonder if he is trying to tap into the same group of voters that Trump has in his camp. For example, in last night’s debate, Sanders said this:

… Look, I was on a picket line in early 1990s against NAFTA because you didn’t need a Ph.D. in economics to understand that American workers should not be forced to compete against people in Mexico making 25 cents an hour.

Obviously, if Sanders had a Ph.D. in economics, he would be a free trader. But putting that aside, what exactly does Sanders have against people in Mexico? Yes, they are, on average, not as wealthy as Americans. But why does that mean they should not be allowed to sell their goods and services to Americans? Clearly, it would make them better off if they could (and their income has risen a lot since NAFTA was signed). Why should the U.S. government take action (protectionism) to keep them poor?

No doubt Sanders would say that this isn’t about keeping Mexicans poor, but rather about making Americans better off. Now, in fact, protectionism does not make Americans better off, so he’s actually hurting everyone. But regardless, even if he did believe his policies would make Americans better off, that wouldn’t change the fact that his policies would help keep Mexicans poor. Those are two sides of the same coin.

Overall, it is pretty clear that Sanders is no Trump. But still, the way his policies treat poor foreigners–and how that appeals to some of his supporters–leaves a bad taste in my mouth.