Few books have as misleading a title as Hard Choices.
For Hillary Clinton, as this tedious memoir of her years as Secretary of State makes evident, there are no hard choices. The Solutions to all political and economic problems are easy. We must always rely on the directing hand of government, guided by the superior wisdom of our moral and intellectual betters, Hillary Clinton foremost among them.
In her main discussion of economic policy, she says something that will surprise those familiar with her record. She contrasts China with America: “China had become the leading exponent of an economic model called ‘state capitalism,’ in which state-owned or state-supported companies used public money to dominate markets and advance strategic interests. … These principles ran directly counter to the values and principles we had worked to embed in the global economy. We believed an open, free, transparent, and fair system with clear rules of the road would benefit everyone.”
Have we been unjust to Mrs. Clinton? Is she in fact a supporter of the free market? No, she is not, despite her criticism of China’s resort to state-control. The giveaway is her phrase “fair system with clear rules of the road.” Among the things she means by this is that foreign countries must enact similar labor legislation to that prevalent in America. On no accounts must foreign countries try to under-cut America by offering employers the chance to hire cheaper labor: “Lowering barriers to access for American companies was a big part of our efforts. So was raising standards in foreign markets on key issues like labor rights, [and] environmental protection. … Companies in the United States already met these standards, but those of many other countries didn’t. We needed to level the playing field and improve a lot of lives around the world along the way. For too long we’d seen companies closing factories and leaving the United States because they could do business more cheaply in foreign countries where they didn’t have to pay workers a living wage or abide by U.S. rules on pollution. Using diplomacy and trade negotiations to raise standards abroad could help change that calculus.”
Thus, far from supporting the free market, she wants the government to pressure other nations to adopt restrictive policies. In doing so, she illustrates a key point that Ludwig von Mises often emphasized. Government intervention in the free market fails to achieve its ostensible purpose and often leads to further intervention to correct the untoward results of the initial interference. Here costly environmental and labor legislation, supposedly aimed at helping American workers, puts many of them out of work by making firms unable to compete with foreign companies. To remedy this, she wishes to burden foreign firms as well: this restores a “level playing field.” It never occurs to her that the policies she favors will destroy the jobs of impoverished foreign workers. To grasp this would require of her a few minutes of thought, and she doesn’t have the time.
Instead, she conjures up a fantasy world not governed by economic law. “In many countries around the world, unions are still suppressed. … This is bad for them and it’s bad for American workers too, because it creates unfair competition that drives down wages for everyone. Contrary to what some governments and employers might think, research shows that respecting workers’ rights leads to positive economic outcomes, including higher levels of foreign direct investment.” In sum, increase labor costs and then employment and investment will rise. Such is Clintonian economics.
Can we at least give her credit for favoring free trade? No, we cannot. True enough, she opposes foreign restrictions of American investments and sales abroad, but this for her is subsumed under a broader strategy of governmental “guidance” of American business. She does not say, “Let’s end tariffs and other restrictions so firms can trade as they wish.” Instead, she endeavors to guide American business in directions that she favors. “I made export promotion a personal mission. During my travels I often made a pitch for an American business or product, like GE in Algeria. … We got creative with initiatives like Direct Line, which allowed our Ambassadors to host phone calls or videos chats with American businesses eager to break into foreign markets.” It is ironic that she criticizes China for its “state capitalism,” when she fails completely to grasp the difference between genuine free enterprise and government-business “partnership.”
When we turn to “climate change,” the same pattern of thought recurs. In exact opposition to her book’s title, there are no hard choices; and, as always, salvation lies in the state. She says, “The problems of global warming are evident, despite the deniers. There was a mountain of overwhelming scientific data about the damaging effects of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases … a serious, comprehensive response to climate change remains stymied by entrenched political opposition at home … the old false choice between promoting the economy and protecting the environment surfaces again.”
Prominent scientists like Richard Lindzen and Fred Singer would dissent from her assessment of the scientific evidence about global warming; but let us put the controversy to one side, and consider the matter using the understanding that she favors of the scientific data. Measures to reduce greenhouse gases impose severe costs on business. Must not these costs be weighed against the supposed benefits of the measures she favors? She makes no attempt to do so: rather for her there is no need at all for choice between economic growth and regulating the environment.
At one point, though, reality is so insistent that she cannot ignore it. If the environmental regulations for America that she wants were imposed, the goal she seeks could not be achieved. “Even if the United States somehow reduced our emissions all the way to zero tomorrow, total global levels still would be nowhere near what they need to be if China, India, and others failed to contain their own emission.”
Once more, the failure of intervention begets proposals for more intervention. Environmental regulation must be extended worldwide: “The United States was pushing for what we considered a realistic achievable outcome: a diplomatic agreement agreed to by leaders … which would commit every major nation, developed and developing alike, to take substantive steps to curb carbon emissions and report transparently on their progress.”
Clinton’s plans to control the world extend far beyond environmental regulation. She has an ideological “human rights” agenda that she demands other nations accept. To the objection that importuning and threatening other nations arouses resentment and thus threatens American security, she has an answer that should by now be familiar: “Throughout the history of American foreign policy, there has been a running debate between so-called realists and idealists. The former, it is argued, place national security ahead of human rights, while the latter do the opposite, These are categories I find overly simplistic. Over the long term, repression undermines stability and creates new threats, while democracy and respect for human rights create strong and stable societies.”
Once more there is no need for choice: interference with other nations does not threaten our security but promotes it. Have we not heard this before? “The world must be made safe for democracy.” In pursuit of this ambitious goal, she pressures other nations that enact measures she deems inappropriate. If the “regime of Vladimir Putin in Russia has enacted a series of anti-gay laws, prohibiting the adoption of Russian children by gay couples,” why is it the business of the United States to endeavor to change this? Clinton’s attempts to impose on other nations her ideological views are, in Edmund Burke’s phrase, an “armed doctrine.”
Clinton has a high opinion of the effect of her inflated rhetoric about rights. “The ripples created by the speech [about LGBT rights] were bouncing around the globe and back, and my phone was soon crowded with messages. A huge number of people had watched the speech online.” Her image of herself as one of the world’s moral teachers, correcting the less enlightened, brings to mind a familiar passage from the Bible: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself: God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are.” (Luke 18:11).