Back in 1994 then New York Governor Mario Cuomo lost his bid for re-election and found himself out of a job. Shortly he turned up on the doorstep of our law firm, and next thing you know he was one of my partners. And not long after that he sat down across from me at a partners' lunch and started talking about some of the important things he had done as governor. At the top of his list was opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he was describing as some kind of noble battle to save some jobs of steelworkers out in Western New York.
As you might imagine, this was too much for me and I launched into a mini-tirade. Twenty years after the fact my memory of the details is fuzzy, but the gist was something like this:
You've just come off twelve years as Governor of New York, and yet you seem to know next to nothing about the economy of our state. The steel mills out in Western New York are a tiny part of our economy and they are dying off quickly no matter what the government does. The economic engine of this state is the New York City financial and business services community, and that community is fundamentally in the business of internationalizing the world economy. It lives off international investment and international trade. If there is one State and one City in the United States that stands to benefit more and be hurt less by free trade agreements, it is the State and City of New York. And for the Governor of New York to oppose free trade agreements is to display a level of ignorance and incompetence that is completely incomprehensible.
Fast forward twenty years or so, and now it's the Trans Pacific Partnership. The steel mills in Western New York are long gone. Check out some photos here of the huge and eerily abandoned former Bethlehem Steel facility in Lackawanna. New York City is down to a pitiful 75,000 or so manufacturing jobs (out of over 3.6 million private sector jobs total). The City financial and business services community is bigger and more lucrative than ever, and more involved than ever in international investment and international trade. The most rapidly growing area of the City's economy is the technology business, which lives on selling apps and ads and programs and designs to the world. Further freeing up markets in Asia will be a tremendous boon to these growing and dynamic businesses.
So where do our politicians stand on the TPP? You guessed it. At least for the Democrats, they're basically all against it.
Start with Senator Schumer, next in line to succeed Harry Reid. He was officially designated by the Manhattan Contrarian as "The Worst United States Senator" way back in 2012. And believe me, he hasn't improved since. His main focus is angling to increase income taxes that will fall disproportionately on his constituents. Oh, except that he protects the "carried interest" game that his billionaire hedge fund backers live off. On TPP? He's against it, of course. In yesterday's cloture vote that got the bare minimum 60 yea votes needed to proceed, he was of course a nay, and would gladly have sunk the thing. This man knows full well that the thousands of twenty-something app developers who would benefit from more free trade are too busy working to pay attention to his vote on this thing. Instead he responds to the now nearly-economically-irrelevant unions who use their last dollars to contribute to his campaigns. Disgusting.
And our other Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand? She's against it too. She's way too busy pushing fake campus rape stories -- even long after they're discredited -- to learn anything about New York's economy.
In the Congressional delegation, some have avoided taking a position, but the New York Democratic Congressional delegation is close to unanimous against. First, kudos to the lonely Gregory Meeks of Queens, who has actually publicly come out in support of TPP, to harsh criticism from the usual unions. But how about my own Congressman, Jerrold Nadler, whose district includes the entire Wall Street area of Manhattan? Against. Sean Maloney, of the suburban 18th District (and another one of my former work colleagues)? Against. In the semi-stand up category is Charles Rangel of Harlem, who has said he is still thinking about it. Probably that means he's planning to retire at the end of this term.
Oh, and then there's Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Council. You may think this is none of their business, but of course they have taken the occasion to come out in opposition. Here is Greg David of Crain's New York Business giving them a very appropriate lecture on economics.
The thing is, it's just not possible to understand much at all about New York's economy and not think that free trade is a huge plus for us. What does that say about our "progressive" politicians?