The gods must have a great a sense of humor. Why else would they arrange to have the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank both come up as great national issues at the same time?

If anyone is missing the irony, the TPP is being sold as "free trade." This is a great holy principle enshrined in intro econ textbooks everywhere. Since the TPP is called a "free-trade" agreement, those who opposed to it are ignorant Neanderthals who should not be taken seriously. 

However the Export-Import Bank is about subsidies for U.S. exports. It is 180 degrees at odds with free trade. It means the government is effectively taxing the rest of us to give money to favored corporations, primarily folks like Boeing, GE, Caterpillar Tractor and a small number of other huge corporations.[1]

The great part of the picture is that most of the strongest proponents of the TPP are also big supporters of the Export-Import Bank. They apparently have zero problem touting the virtues of free trade while at the same time pushing an institution that primarily exists to subsidize exports. Isn’t American politics just the best?

[1] The supporters of the Export-Import Bank insist that the bank makes a profit and therefore does not involve a subsidy from taxpayers. This is bit of fancy footwork designed to deceive the naïve. By taking advantage of the government’s ability to borrow at extremely low interest rates, the bank can still make money on the difference between the subsidized loan rate provided to its clients and the government’s own borrowing rate. However, in standard economic models that assume full employment (the ones you need to get the story that free trade is good) the bank’s subsidized loans are raising the cost of capital for everyone else by diverting capital to the favored corporations. For this reason the subsidized loans are still effectively imposing a tax on the rest of us, the accounting system just provides an effective way to hide this fact.

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