I was browsing through the candidates websites today to learn what they have to say about trade. Today here’s a few quotes and comments about Mike Huckabee’s position on trade.

First he says the following:

I believe in free trade, but it has to be fair trade. We are losing jobs because of an unlevel, unfair trading arena that has to be fixed. Behind the statistics, there are real families and real lives and real pain. I’m running for President because I don’t want people who have worked loyally for a company for twenty or thirty years to walk in one morning and be handed a pink slip and be told, “I’m sorry, but everything you spent your life working for is no longer here.”

The last sentence suggests that to be handed a pink slip after 20 or 30 years because of foreign competition makes everything the worker has worked for, for naught. I suspect this is a popular sentiment among workers. However, the sentiment is based, I think, on a presumption that workers and companies have formed a kind of family relationship. For thirty years the worker has offered his efforts in return for a weekly paycheck and his own family’s sustenance. The worker has counted on the company as much as the company has counted on him. But then when the company decides to move a plant overseas or must close down, the workers feel abandoned. It’s almost as if the family has thrown them out onto to street to fend for themselves.

While it is true that any group of people who work together for a long period of time build family-like connections, I would respectfully suggest that, this is not the purpose of a business or company. The reason workers are hired is to help a company produce the goods or services that its customers are buying. If one recognizes this as the central purpose of an organization, then one will also see that the worker who worked for 30 years did not do so for nothing. Instead every week and every month each worker contributed in some way to deliver a product to customers who purchased, consumed and derived well being in the process. Every day of work had value and should be commended. Each day was also rewarded because the worker received a wage.

“Fair trade” policies, like Huckabee proposes, would prevent companies from restructuring in order to save domestic jobs. Such policies, however, would inhibit companies from best serving their customers and thus thwart the primary objective of the business. Although this would seem fair to the workers whose jobs are saved, it would also reduce US competitiveness and raise prices for consumers. In other words, to be fair to these workers we would have to be unfair to the consumers of these products.

US trade policies should work to enhance US competitiveness as its primary objective to best serve it broadest and least represented constituents, namely consumers. To focus on job security instead, purportedly in the name of fairness, can only be done by harming and thus being unfair to a much larger group.

Interestingly, Huckabee seems to understand this in the next paragraph when he says,

As the Industrial Revolution raised living standards by allowing ordinary people to buy mass-produced goods that previously only the rich could afford, so globalization gives all of us the equivalent of a big pay raise by letting us buy all kinds of things from clothing to computers to TVs much more inexpensively.

But if he understands the importance of serving the consumers’ interests – which is everyone’s interests – then why does he also seem willing to provide more job security to import competing firms, contrary to consumer interests? Could he be trying to curry favor with different groups with diverging interests simultaneously? Hmmm, but then that would make him a politician!!