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Only in 21st century America could a leading pundit who is not brain dead look at a policy that’s completely failed and dare those criticizing similar measures to explain, “Compared to what?”

Of course, I’m talking about Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson’s article this morning on President Obama’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. The record plainly shows that trade flows shaped by the deals on which this planned pact is based, and similar trade policies, have cut U.S. economic growth by nearly 16 percent in real terms during the current – historically feeble – economic recovery. So I guess Samuelson hasn’t heard of the maxim, “First, do no harm.”

In addition, the author inexplicably overlooks the current TPP debate both inside and outside Congress – which centers not on killing the agreement completely, but on adding measures the critics believe will improve it. So his question “Compared to what?” is easily answered by pointing to proposals to strengthen TPP’s labor and environment provisions, add enforceable curbs on currency manipulation, and change or eliminate a host of controversial new non-trade rules covering intellectual property rights, legal relations between business and government, and many other issues. It’s legitimate to debate the wisdom of these ideas. It’s completely bogus to pretend that they don’t exist.

Unless Samuelson is neglecting these recommendations because he’s one of those viewing them as ploys whose only purpose is killing the chances of any agreement? Leave aside the inconvenient truth that confidence in this position logically requires clairvoyant abilities denied to most of our species. We’re still left with the question of why the United States shouldn’t be able to secure these changes to TPP.

After all, as I’ve demonstrated, America’s economy represents nearly two-thirds of the output of the initial TPP zone, it’s growing faster than those of most other TPP countries, and even those TPP countries with relatively high growth rates depend heavily on selling to the United States to sustain their expansions. A negotiator who can’t exploit this leverage – and in fact, win special enforcement authority for Washington – should be fired for incompetence.

In fact, these obvious points could explain why Samuelson spent so much of his column on the supposed geopolitical case for TPP (which is transparently silly in its own right, since the China whose rise TPP is supposed to counter has already attracted most of the prospective TPP members into its own infrastructure bank). He knows the economic arguments are losers.

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