Okay, I know it was not deliberate, but how about in 2018 we get news reporters and columnists to think seriously about the concepts they are using? After all, at least the ones at elite outlets like the Washington Post are pretty well paid and have prestigious positions.

When Dan Balz discusses the Democrats political prospects for 2018 and asks about their economic policy, what does he mean when he asks:

"What is their response to concerns among many workers about the impact of globalization — more free trade or a rollback?"

The reality is that most formal trade barriers in the form of tariffs or quotas are already zero or very low with US trading partners. There is not much room to lower them further with "more free trade." The trade deals that have been recently under negotiation, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Pact, don't have much to do with reducing traditional trade barriers. Instead, they are primarily about locking in a regulatory structure that is highly business friendly.

This structure includes special tribunals in which foreign investors can bring complaints. These tribunals would overrule domestic laws at the national, state, or local level. (Let me preempt some deliberate stupidity on this issue: the tribunals can't actually take the laws off the books, they can just make the relevant government pay a huge price for keeping the law in question on the books.)


The trade deals also would look to lock in place rules on Internet commerce and privacy that are very favorable to companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Given how little understood the implications of these rules are in a variety of areas (do you like bots created by people with political agendas circulating false information on Facebook and Twitter?), it may not be a good moment to lock everything down just now in binding international trade deals.

And, these trade deals are about having stronger and longer patent and copyright protections. Yes, that is "protections" as in "protectionism." Only in the loony tune land of Washington policy debates can a policy that is explicitly protectionist be embraced as "free trade." Sure, these protections serve a purpose in financing research and creative work, but there are other mechanisms for supporting this research (see chapter 5 in Rigged [it's free]), and in any case, they are still protectionist.

It is just a flat out lie to say that making patent and copyright protection stronger and longer is "free trade." It's fine to argue for this policy, but don't pretend it has anything to do with free trade: it is the exact opposite. 

Anyhow, for 2018 it would be great if reporters and columnists did not just use the term "free trade" to apply to an agenda they obviously favor rather than reserving the term for actions that fit its real meaning, as in lowering tariff and quota barriers. Come on folks, how about having this one as a New Year's resolution?