Since Adam Smith, capitalist economists (for the most part) have agreed that government (or other social institutions) should fill the gaps that the private sector can not address or would not do so as efficiently and/or effectively as the public sector. The Ex-Im Bank is a government agency that provides credit support to U.S. exporters. A major beneficiary is Boeing – airplanes being one of the U.S.’s largest export industry. Supporters argue that the Ex-Im Bank supports jobs, economic growth, helps the U.S. trade balance, and actually generates a profit to the Treasury while doing so.
While critics are correct that the program may create trade distortions, other countries have similar programs so a unilateral disarmament by the U.S. wouldn’t level the playing field but simply tilt in more in favor of non-U.S. producers such as Airbus.
In addition part of the Ex-Im Bank’s role is to help small companies enter the international market and I would argue that there is a gradient between trade promotion and trade distortion.
Legitimate criticisms include one by Delta that the U.S. government is providing a subsidy via Boeing/Ex-Im Bank to foreign airlines who then have a competitive advantage over U.S. airlines causing economic harm (including job losses) in that industry. Thus the impact of the Ex-Im Bank needs to be measured not just on the primary effects but also on the secondary effects. An also interesting issues is raised in the Comments section of the Bernstein column by Roger Anderson who points out that in recent years Boeing has had a negative federal income tax rate while competitor General Dynamics has paid at a 29% tax rate. So just how large is the real subsidy of Boeing and is it fair to its U.S. competitors?
So will Congress address this complicated issue with the intelligent nuanced analysis that it deserves? Probably not. Joe Nocera of the NY Times reports on Rep. Hensarling’s view of the Ex-Im Bank:
Representative Jeb Hensarling, a Republican from Texas who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, gave a speech to the Heritage Foundation. Hensarling is a Tea Party favorite. His core view is that better government is less government, and that there is nothing government can do that the private sector can’t do better.
Hensarling’s speech was about economics, which, of course, meant it was about wasteful government subsidies and “crony capitalism.” He tossed off what he felt were examples of each — the failure of Solyndra; the continued existence of Fannie Mae; the bailouts of Wall Street and the auto industry — before landing on a government organization that he described as being the “poster child of the Washington insider economy and corporate welfare.”
“Its demise,” he went on, “would clearly be one of the few achievable victories for the Main Street competitive economy left in this Congress. I believe it is a defining issue for our party and our movement.
As if there are Mom & Pop stores selling jetliners and jet fighters in the local strip mall.