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For free trade, free ideas and institutions sure to follow

By Paul Greenberg, Tribune Content Agency on

At times like these, it's a pity that this column doesn't come to you, Gentle Reader, in sound. So we could all hear the distinctive growl of Winston Churchill reminding us all that "Jaw-jaw is better than war-war." That advice applies as well to trade wars as it does to the kind conducted with shot and shell.

To quote Robert Holleyman, who worked on trade issues for the previous administration: "People have to be planning for what they do in a worst-case scenario." And the best case, too. For why not see to it that all three countries now engaged in renegotiating NAFTA can declare victory? And victory it would be for all if senators like John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both of Texas, could keep these talks about NAFTA going.

To quote Caroline Freund of the Peterson Institute for International Economics: "Trump can tweet that he's withdrawn (from these trade talks) but the tariff preferences could remain in place. It would be withdrawal on paper but not in substance." Why not look on the bright side rather than the dark?

But the aginners -- like Vermont's Bernie Sanders -- we will always have with us. So long as everybody -- for and against and in between -- are still jabbering away about NAFTA, there will always be those who would prefer to sabotage international cooperation rather than have us all try to live happily and cooperatively together. It's enough to bring back the bad old days of the 1930s and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, when Americans were told the way to prosper was behind a wall of high tariffs. The worse our neighbors did, the better off all of us here at home were bound to do. It was a beggar-thy-neighbor school of short-sighted economics.

So it is now, as the air of simple economics grows crowded with basically irrelevant talk that has little or nothing to do with making a deal and then making it work.

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Canada's prime minister, who can always be trusted to keep his head in the clouds far above the rarified air the rest of mere mortals must breathe, is still pushing for a climate-change clause that would do little but clog negotiations. So let's make a deal. At this point any deal would be good news.

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(Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His e-mail address is pgreenberg@arkansasonline.com.)

 

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