, , , , , , , ,

Since it’s already 11 AM as I begin writing, and the Biden presidential campaign still hasn’t released the full version of a broad manufacturing and economy blueprint scheduled to be issued today (as opposed to this summary), and since it’s still not clear when the document will appear, I’ll focus for now on a development that’s surely more startling, and possibly more important in the long run.

It’s a recent Wall Street Journal column and its viewpoint on trade policy, and it was so mind-blowing that my first reaction was that the author must be dropping acid.

More specifically, the piece was by Gerard Baker, who served as the Journal‘s Editor-in-Chief from 2013 to 2018, and is now an editor at large. That was clearly a demotion, but there’s no indication that the move stemmed from any unhappiness about Baker’s overall policy views. (He was thought by some to be soft on President Trump, but Trump trade policies were never brought up.) 

Yet on Monday, a publication whose editorial positions have from its beginnings practically been defined by all-but-uncritical worship of free markets and their international counterpart, free trade, ran a Baker piece making the following points:

> “The modern woke corporation publicly disdains and derides the values on which the nation—and its profits—were built, even as it pursues global opportunities at the expense of American communities”; and

> Cleaning out the “rot in American capitalism” must include “ensuring that corporations prioritize Americans over their globalist, progressive agendas.”

I know that I recently reported a big Journal position switch – opposing decades of pre-Trump policies that sought to tie America’s economy more closely to China’s. But much of the case made by the editorial board was grounded in national security – which is entirely understandable, but narrower than what Baker seems to be calling for.

After all, his new views didn’t mention national security at all. They were a full-throated demand that Washington’s international economic policies prioritize America First.

Baker isn’t the full editorial board. But neither is his column an example of the kind of tokenism that’s typically shaped Mainstream Media editorial departments’ (including the Journal’s) treatment of trade and related economic policy issues – interrupt a continuing flow of articles singing the praises of conventional trade and globalization policies with the occasional contrarian piece by a fringe figure (like left-wing consumer advocate Ralph Nader or far-right conservative Pat Buchanan), or every once in a while by a leading Democratic party trade critic like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.

The effect of these practices clearly was to foster the impression that for the most part only genuine oddballs could question the pro-free trade consensus. But even though Baker left his former position under something of a cloud, he’s not a professional gadfly. He’s a lifelong member of The Club. Just look at these credentials: the Bank of England, Lloyd’s, The Times of London, the Financial Times, the BBC. Even Oxford! So it’s tough to see his latest as anything but another significant (and welcome) straw in the wind.

In fact, it raises a fascinating question: Which part of the Journal will repudiate free trade idolatry fastest and most completely? Its highly and openly (and legitimately) opinionated editorial page? Or its straight news department, which like its counterparts elsewhere in the Mainstream Media, often act just as opinionated – but more subtly so?