George Will has a recent column profiling University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee, an advisor to the Barack Obama presidential campaign. Goolsbee was a classmate of mine at Yale. While we often disagreed political matters, I was always impressed by his intelligence and wit. He also seems to have impressed Will, who concludes his column:
Economics is the only academic discipline that in recent decades has moved in the direction that America and much of the world has moved, to the right. Goolsbee no doubt has lots of dubious ideas — he is, after all, a Democrat — about how government can creatively fiddle with the market's allocation of wealth and opportunity. But he seems to be the sort of person — amiable, empirical and reasonable — you would want at the elbow of a Democratic president, if such there must be.Senator Barack Obama is an impressively eloquent speaker, but the content is sometimes lacking, particularly when it comes to the nitty-gritty of public policy. He can say quite a bit without saying very much at all (something I noticed the first time I testified before him at a Senate committee hearing, well before he became a presidential candidate). Strip away the thematic elements and emotional appeals, and it is not always clear where Obama stands on a given issue. Yet if Goolsbee is representative of those who will advise him on economic matters, that speaks well of the Obama campaign, and the sort of economic policies we could expect from an Obama administration.
By a nearly two-to-one margin, Republican voters believe free trade is bad for the U.S. economy, a shift in opinion that mirrors Democratic views and suggests trade deals could face high hurdles under a new president. . . .The leading GOP Presidential contenders seem to still support free trade, but that may not count for much if the rank-and-file disagrees. The Bush Administration often talked a good game on trade, but Bush trade policy has been a profound disappointment.
Six in 10 Republicans in the poll agreed with a statement that free trade has been bad for the U.S. and said they would agree with a Republican candidate who favored tougher regulations to limit foreign imports. That represents a challenge for Republican candidates who generally echo Mr. Bush's calls for continued trade expansion, and reflects a substantial shift in sentiment from eight years ago.
And not all GOP presidential wannabees support free trade, or necessarily understand the trade implications of some of their other policy arguments. Mike Huckabee, for instance, believes that "A country is not free if it can't produce three things for itself — its own food, its own fuel, and its own fighting apparatus." Comments like this suggest he knows as little about economics as he does about evolution. Perhaps Goolsbee has a Republican colleague that could help bring Huckabee up to speed.
UPDATE: Maybe GOP disillusionment with free trade is overstated. I sure hope so.