Protectionist Hogwash

What is it with Republican and Harley Davidson factories? In January this year Dick Cheney trotted off to one in Kansas to talk about how great the economy was. And yesterday President Bush was in Pennslyvania astride a hog, talking up the benefits of free trade:

"My concern is that this kind of fear of globalization causes a reaction that will cause us to lurch toward protectionism. That's my biggest concern," the president said in a 25-minute interview with USA TODAY. "I am worried that may be where a country that is concerned about the future heads."

The USA Today piece is interesting, containing as it does some sharp words on the President's patchy record on trade. Nonetheless, his remarks are to be welcomed, and mirror almost exactly the sentiments of Treasury Secretary Paulson's speech a week or so back, as quoted in this excellent Post piece on why "openness should begin at home". But what of Harley themselves? It seems the choice of venue has been somewhat controversial. Dean Baker's Beat the Press page at The American Prospect notes the irony that Harley Davidson was the recipient of tarrif protection during the early 1980s. Reagan allowed the protection during the hey-dey of early 80s jap bashing. Protection basically allowed Harley to avoid going bust in the face of competition from much superior Japanese motorcylces. Its a nice debating point. But Baker's none-too-subtle shout out to the wonderous powers of tarrif protection would likely no longer get much of a hearing at Harley's Milwaukee HQ. The manufacturer has spent the last few years badgering the Commerce Department to help them overcome trade barriers, and get a toe hold in the Chinese market.