The eighteenth-century Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke wrote that in democratic governments, "Your Representative owes you, not only his industry, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion." In other words, political leaders should lead, a concept that seems alien to U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. Citing a recent poll that purportedly showed that a majority of Americans expressed doubts about the value of free trade, Kirk explained that the Obama administration would not push for free trade agreements with other countries.
Despite the inclinations of the lemmings on Pennsylvania Avenue and the ignorance of the American people, free trade overwhelmingly benefits society. It allows a division of labor that encourages countries to focus on those things they produce most efficiently—whether that be manufacturing, technological innovation, agriculture, or the provision of services. Free trade stimulates innovation, raises productivity and creates new wealth, thereby raising living standards. How ironic that the U.S. Trade Representative and his boss, President Obama, seem to be ignorant of these facts, or do not care about them. (Or, perhaps, they fail to factor them into policymaking because of organized labor.)