This series is a work-in-progress. Your feedback would be appreciated.
That group of conservatives often identified as paleoconservatives are usually characterized by three issues on which they differ from “regular” (i.e. movement) conservatives. They are non-interventionist on foreign policy, they were immigration restrictionists before immigration restriction was cool, and they are skeptical of free trade. (There is more to paleoconservatism than these three issues, but this should suffice for the sake of this discussion.)
One curious exception to this categorization has often been Southern conservatives. (When I say Southern conservatives I don’t just mean conservatives who happen to be from the South although obviously there is some overlap. I mean those conservatives who consciously come at their conservatism from a uniquely Southern perspective.) Southern conservatives have generally been regarded as a subset of paleoconservatives, but many Southern conservatives have been more reluctant than their other paleo peers to embrace “protectionism” and “protective” tariffs (as opposed to a revenue tariff). (I use quotation marks around protectionism, not because I don’t think it is a real thing, but because I don’t think both sides necessarily agree about what the word means.)
There is a clear historical reason for this. Southern conservatives have naturally become well versed in defending the Southern cause in the War Between the States, and one of those causes was opposition to a high protective tariff, which was rightly seen as intended to benefit one section of the country, Northern merchants, at the expense of another, Southern agrarians. So Southern conservatives have been slower to embrace protectionist tariffs that they view as intended to benefit some (industry primarily) arguably at the expense of others.
Of course there are exceptions to this. The average man on the street conservative in the South may be just as likely or more to be skeptical of free trade, than his man on the street conservative Northern counterpart. I am speaking here primarily of an identifiable subset of Southern conservative thinkers who would otherwise be easily characterized as paleocons. This reluctance to whole heartedly endorse protectionist trade measures among historically attuned Southern conservatives is evident in the blogosphere and paleo commentariate.
And this is not just because Southern conservatives have to a greater degree adopted laissez-faire free market ideology. On the contrary, Southern conservatives (and paleocons in general) are more likely to recognize the importance of an economics (and politics) of the human scale and to be skeptical of economic reductionism and “economic man” thinking. I believe what is more at work here, besides historical sensibilities, is a skepticism toward nationalism in all its manifestations (and protectionism is often couched as economic nationalism) and a healthy skepticism that the Feds could create a rational and fair (unbeholden to powerful lobbies) economic nationalist agenda even if it were deemed desirable and constitutional. (While no conservative would doubt the constitutionality of tariffs per se, the “industrial policy” that often accompanies an economic nationalist agenda could be viewed as constitutionally suspect depending on what exactly is being proposed.)
I will leave this debate to the various partisans. My point with this essay is to point out that Southern conservatives who might otherwise be reluctant to embrace “protectionism,” should recognize the danger of the proposed KORUS FTA to another issue that is near and dear to their hearts, states’ rights. A vote on KORUS is imminent. Obama could drop it in the hopper any time he thinks would best facilitate its passage. It is time to put pointy headed discussions like the one above aside for a later day, and work to stop the KORUS broadside to US sovereignty and states’ rights.
According to Americans for Free and Fair Trade, KORUS “using language almost lifted from NAFTA … obligates the federal government to force U.S. states to conform state laws to every single provision in the 1000-page agreement – whether directly related to trade or not.” Furthermore, “Korean and other multi-national corporations could take any dispute with federal or state laws, regulations, or rules to the World Court or United Nations. Federal or state courts would have no authority over the companies.” (emphasis mine)
A person might not like all the rules and regulations individual states may impose on businesses in their state. In fact, conservative minded folks probably don’t. But those rules and regulations are a matter that is properly addressed by the people of the state and their representatives and state and federal courts if necessary. To allow foreign corporations to challenge state laws before foreign tribunals is an intolerable outrage. No self respecting Southern conservative or any other patriotic conservative should stand for this.
It is time for the various partisans in the academic free trade vs. fair trade debate to put their differences aside while we stop this KORUS outrage before it is too late. Once we have done that, then we can reengage this always entertaining debate, a debate to which Southern conservatives bring a unique and historically informed perspective.