Libertarians Shouldn't Dream of Hillary's Common Market
Largely overlooked by the media in light of Trump’s leaked Access Hollywood video and Sunday’s presidential debate has been the volumes of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta released by Wikileaks. One revelation that has gained some traction are some of the remarks Secretary Clinton made while speaking to Wall Street bankers, in which she takes a very different position on trade agreements than what she has taken during her campaign. One email notes a speech where she says:
My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, sometime in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.
Interestingly, this remark has been praised among some libertarian pundits. For example, Reason’s Nick Gillespie, while attacking Clinton’s duplicity, describes the comments as “good news” from a libertarian perspective. David Boaz, vice president of the Cato Institute, praised the remarks tweeting “Hillary's looking better all the time.” He, of course, followed up with a tweet saying she’s “not exactly trustworthy,” but his point being that Clinton’s comment was something libertarians should celebrate.
Gillespie and Boaz’s praise indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of what Clinton is actually advocating. After all, a “common market” is not the same as a free market — and open trade is not necessarily the same as “free trade.” The concept Hillary Clinton is advocating is not a libertarian international order — but instead a European Union-like entity for the Americas.
Unfortunately we have seen a long history of libertarians praising the EU, largely based on the grounds of “open trade.” While the idea of “open trade” is praiseworthy in theory, the phrase isn’t synonymous with “free trade” in reality — just as the label of “fair trade” isn’t the same as “free trade,” even though free trade is itself fair. Instead, open trade is actually managed trade, with government’s coming together agreeing on shared rules in regards to subsidizes, regulation, taxes, and other forms of government intervention.
This is why Murray Rothbard was an outspoken critic of the North American Free Trade Agreement, noting that “genuine free trade doesn’t require a treaty.” He also compared NAFTA to the bureaucratic European Union:
Thus the siren-song of Nafta is the same seductive tune by which the socialistic Eurocrats have tried to get Europeans to surrender to the super-statism of the European Community: wouldn’t it be wonderful to have North America be one vast and mighty “free trade unit” like Europe? The reality is very different: socialistic intervention and planning by a super-national Nafta Commission or Brussels bureaucrats accountable to no one.
French scholars Ferghane Azihari and Louis Rouanet made a similar point last year in reference to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, highlighting how trade agreements serve to further enhance state power:
Intergovernmentalism is nothing more than a process governments use to mutualize their respective sovereignties in order to complete tasks they are not able to accomplish alone. Nation-states are entities which rarely give up power. When they finalize agreements, it is to strengthen their power, not to weaken it. On the contrary, free trade requires a decline of governments’ regulatory power.
Rouanet, in a separate piece criticizing the EU for being un-European, highlighted how the true effect of a “common market” was to eliminate regulatory competition by forcing member nations under the same code:
The European Union is nothing more than a cartel of governments that tries to gain power by harmonizing the fiscal and regulatory legislation in every member State. Article 99 of the Treaty of Rome (1957) clearly states that indirect taxation “can be harmonized in the interest of the Common Market” by the European Commission. As for Article 101 of the same Treaty, it explicitly restrains regulatory competition “where the Commission finds that a disparity existing between the legislative or administrative provisions of the Member States distorts the conditions of competition in the Common Market.”
These examples are perfect illustrations of why libertarians should be wary of political globalism. In spite of the obvious imperfections of modern nation states, the greatest threat to liberty is political centralization — which is why Brexit and other secession movements should be celebrated. As Jeff Deist argued earlier this year, Brexit was:
[A] referendum on nationhood, which is a step away from globalism and closer to individual self-determination. Libertarians should view the decentralization and devolution of state power as ever and always a good thing, regardless of the motivations behind such movements. Reducing the size and scope of any single (or multinational) state’s dominion is decidedly healthy for liberty.
So, in spite of what Mr. Gillespie or Boaz may think, there is nothing praiseworthy in Secretary Clinton’s remarks, even if she was remotely trustworthy. Neither government-controlled trade, nor government-enforced open borders are libertarian. We don’t need political globalism to advance the ideas of liberty, we simply need government out of the way. Secretary Clinton has made it clear she has no interest in that.