Moreover, if Ex‐Im is justified as a means of “leveling the playing field” between U.S. exporters and the subsidized exporters of other countries, how is the subsequent adverse unleveling of the playing field between other U.S. companies and their foreign competition justified? It’s not.
It should be very clear that Ex‐Im assists some U.S. companies at the expense of others. When U.S. taxpayers provide foreign firms with low‐rate financing to purchase U.S. exports, they are subsidizing the competition of downstream U.S. companies, whose cost structures are made relatively higher as a result. This is analogous to the tariff‐rate quotas of the U.S. sugar program (to give one example), which benefit cane and beet producers and refiners, but put U.S. sugar‐using firms at disadvantages vis‐à‐vis their foreign competitors.
The debate over whether to reauthorize the charter of the Export‐Import Bank of the United States features two sets of advocates: defenders of the status quo, whose success requires a public easily seduced by sleight of hand, and; proponents of reform, who want to expose the magician’s trick. By obediently focusing on the immediate effects of policy and paying no mind to the secondary effects, most media and the public are practically begging to be bamboozled by Washington’s hucksters. But to those disciplined enough to look beyond the first order effects to the broader effects of policy, the arguments for reauthorizing the charter of the Export‐Import Bank are unpersuasive.
I would have put Samuelson in this latter group. In fact, I think he belongs there. But for the time being, at least, like so many in the media, he has contorted his position like a pretzel to avoid coming down on the same side of an issue as those irascible Tea Party extremists. Still, it is disappointing that someone who is usually more analytically robust would choose style over substance and reject a proposal because he doesn’t care for the messenger.
“My complaint about today’s debate is that it’s political theater. By exaggerating Ex-Im’s importance, the tea party types pretend they’re making a major assault on government spending when they’re not. This pretense in turn gives them an excuse to avoid harder spending choices. Large programs, starting with Social Security, are popular and untouchable precisely because they’re large. Only when the tea party and others face up to this will they be serious.”
For reform‐minded folks who can see their ways past the grudges they may hold for the Tea Party “types,” shutting down the Ex‐Im Bank is an excellent first step toward reining in corporate welfare and crony capitalism.