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Shields and Brooks on Ukraine upheaval, trade policy skepticism

February 21, 2014 at 6:33 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to analyze the week’s news, including the instability in Ukraine, disagreement among Democrats on trade policy, the influence of governors in an era of Washington gridlock, plus how boosting the minimum wage might affect jobs and poverty.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Good evening.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, our lead today and for the last few days has been Ukraine, really just exploded into mayhem yesterday.

But, Mark, today, there seems to be a truce. The president has signed an agreement with the opposition. We’re — it’s a little bit surreal. We’re watching the Olympics take place in Russia, but next door in Ukraine that is what’s happening. How do you see what’s been going on there?

MARK SHIELDS: Like everybody else, I guess, Judy, I have just been following it and hoping for the best.

And the latest developments certainly are encouraging. It seems to be fitting a pattern where the United States, there’s a government that uses repressive power against its own citizens. We saw it in Egypt. We have seen it in Syria. And it’s — it seems to be the pattern of an oligarch government that is out of touch with its own people.

And we hope that this is a move in the direction. I mean, it shows the limits what we — there’s American interests, but there’s not an American solution.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see it?


Well, we have seen these things, as Mark said, all around the world, various orange, various color revolutions, people out on the streets in various squares. And I think our first instincts a couple years ago was to always root for the people in the streets. And I think we still root for them, but we should probably be a little sobered by the effects, especially Egypt and Syria and places like that, that you do have the potential of getting these rounds of destabilization.

And in Ukraine, certainly the lows, the political lows, the dangers are greater than the highs are high. The lows are lower than the highs are highs. And so there should be a need for caution. And I think that was demonstrated by the international community who came in today.

And we had this agreement. And it’s a pretty good agreement for the protesters. But it’s an agreement. It’s a negotiation and a settlement. It’s a bit of a half-a-loaf. And I think given the history of these things over the past couple years, half-a-loaf is pretty good.

And so I think we should hope that they do not topple the government, that the elections, the constitution is basically preserved. When things are bad and when the lows can be lower than the highs can be high, caution is the watchword. Half-a-loaf is pretty good.

And so far that’s the outcome, so that’s a good outcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it clear, Mark, what’s at stake here for the West, for Europe and for the U.S.?

MARK SHIELDS: The interest seems to be more primarily that on the part of Russia. They brought their influence there the old-fashioned way with $15 billion to the administration to bail it out.

And this is a new country. And it’s, what, 45 Russian-speaking. So I’m not sure, Judy. It’s between Europe and Russia. The pressures and the tensions are obvious and real.

DAVID BROOKS: I covered the Ukrainian independence movement when they were first declaring or voting on a referendum for independence.

And then if you had asked me, I thought Ukraine would be way ahead of Russia. It just seemed like a more — less corrupt place, a more stable place, a humane place, frankly, in the political culture sense. It hasn’t turned out that way, in part because of the divisions, in part because they can’t decide what part of the East-West divide they’re on, in part because the corruption has just gotten so bad.

And it’s a gradual process of roping them into the European system, I think, where Ukraine naturally belongs in sort of the orbit of the E.U., but that’s decades long.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you both about something that is partly international, but certainly have very much a domestic component, Mark, and that is trade.

The president’s been pushing something called the Trans-Pacific Partnership in an effort to get closer to Asia. He’s in favor of it, but a lot of Democrats aren’t. Explain why the split and where do you see this going?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, every president, Judy, irrespective of party, wants fast-track authority to negotiate without the interference of Congress. Every Congress wants to have its oar in and be a part of it. So, there’s a natural tension there.

But we’re dealing here with the shadow of NAFTA. It’s 20 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement, which — there was much overpromise, that it was going to be great for everybody involved, that it was going to elevate Mexico to the point where the immigration problem would disappear. A Mexican middle class would flourish.

And what we have seen has not been really — there’s been economic growth, no question about it. But it’s not been broadly shared prosperity. And it’s reached now to the point where Democrats have grown skeptical, not simply the hollowed-out towns of Ohio and so much of the Industrial Belt of this country, but to the point where the most sophisticated technology developed in this country, its ingenuity, its genius, is sent overseas to be manufactured, not because there’s better education there, but because there’s repression of workers and suppression of wages.

So it’s cheaper. And that has caught up, I think, with the free trade side of the argument. And I think there’s a great skepticism, not only on the part of Democrats, but on the part of the American people.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I mean, does that say any kind of trade agreement is a problem?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, they’re in trouble. There’s no question about that.

NAFTA, my reading of the evidence is that it didn’t turn out to be that big a deal one way or the other. It was sort of a wash economically and in a lot of things. But we have do much more than NAFTA.

We have really — since World War II, we have got 60 or 70 years of trade. And the trade agreements we’re talking about here are with Europe. They’re not low-wage countries and across the Pacific with Asia. These are trade agreements that we have 60 or 70 years of pretty guaranteed growth out of these agreements.

And they have the story of global prosperity for this time. I mentioned in my column today that in the last — since 1970, the number of people in this world making a dollar a day has declined by 80 percent, the greatest decline in global poverty in human history.

And why is that? Because of global trade. And so to me every president of either party has traditionally been a proponent of trade, as this one is, and I think there’s a strong evidence it’s growth agenda, and so I understand the political fears about it. But I don’t think they’re merited. And I do think when the president’s — when the congressional leaders are bucking their own president, they’re doing some harm for political reasons.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where do you think — where do you think…

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t — I mean, I understand very much where Leader Pelosi and Senator Reid are here.

I argue with David. I think what it’s produced is what Professor Harley Shaiken of University of California on this broadcast has called high-productivity poverty. Yes, it’s been economic growth. The trade agreements, Judy, and Europe being the exception, have concentrated on protection of all the corporate rights, of copyright, of patent rights, of licensing, but have ignored workers’ rights.

And you can’t work at the outsourcing of production to Asia and to Southeast Asia and not say that they’re doing it for the lowest unit cost of work. And they’re doing it not to invest there. They invest there to produce there, not to sell there, but to bring stuff back here. And I just think that’s the skepticism and I think it’s a legitimate one.

DAVID BROOKS: I will say two things.

First, we’re beginning to see manufacturing jobs coming back here from China because their wages are coming up. We’re doing OK on that. The reason the economy has hollowed out is to me not because of globalization. It’s because of technology.

We just had this Facebook quote WhatsApp, this app, for X-zillions of dollars.


DAVID BROOKS: The amazing statistic to me was the amount of money, the value per employee of WhatsApp. Each employee got the equivalent — or they didn’t get, but they paid the equivalent of $347 million per employee.

That means we have got companies with very few employees of very high value. That’s why the economy is hollowing out. I don’t think it’s because of globalization.

MARK SHIELDS: I would just add one thing.

I think broadly — and we’re seeing it in Ukraine as well. Broadly shared prosperity is not only a social value and a social justice value. It’s a civic value. And I think that is really something that is of overriding importance to us and should be in every policy we develop.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, in a way, this is connected to the conversation I had with the governors, which I think the two of you heard.

Governor Quinn of Illinois, Democrat, and Governor Haslam of Tennessee, we ended up talking about the minimum wage, the UAW vote in Governor Haslam’s home state. But we — I went into that again with this idea that Washington is divided. Governors are finding a way to work together.

But, Mark, what we’re hearing is that they were — you heard them — they’re divided on some of the same issues that Washington is divided.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, all politics is local.


MARK SHIELDS: Pat Quinn’s running for reelection in Illinois. And he came on and duked it out with Governor Haslam of Kentucky and stood up for workers’ rights against this anti-union Southern Republican.

I think there was a little bit of political…




MARK SHIELDS: Maybe theater even. But, no, the differences are real, don’t get me wrong.

DAVID BROOKS: I thought Governor Quinn was running in Tennessee, the way he was going.


DAVID BROOKS: But — he was aggressive, but he believed it, so good for him.

Just on the issues, first on the minimum wage issue, because we just had this big CBO report to come out in Washington this week. And it’s a mixed bag. Like a lot of policies, there are winners and losers. And so the winners out of this would be 900,000 lifted out of poverty, many more millions of people seeing a wage increase. The losers would be some loss of jobs potentially in the ballpark of 500,000.

And so how do you weigh that? I would say two things. First, when you take people out of the labor force, especially when our labor force has been so decimated, you’re really doing long-term harm to them. So, I sort of weigh that very heavily. And so I’m a little skeptical of the minimum wage for that reason.

Secondly — and the reason I think this is a waste — is that we have another set of policies, the Earned Income Tax Credit, that provide the same sort of benefit to low-income workers without the negative labor market effects. So, why are we not talking about that, instead of the minimum wage?

And the answer to that, transparently, is the minimum wage polls really well for Democrats. But I wish we were talking about the Earned Income Tax Credit, where you are beginning to see some Republican buy-in. It’s just not as politically useful.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why is this not fair? Twenty-five seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s not either/or. You can do both.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, the child of Milton Friedman and Jerry Ford, it was a great idea. It has worked enormously well. But, at the same time, you have to raise the income. And that’s why the minimum wage has to be raised. You have to raise it. Let’s not put it all on American taxpayers, which — Earned Income Tax Credit.

Let’s let Wal-Mart pay its share as well. Costco already is. Gap is. Let’s join in bringing some — a little bit of economic justice to our workers.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the two of you bring justice to this program every Friday.

Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.