Should government officials be marketing for Boeing? 

A new Wikileaks cable dump reveals the ways in which U.S. diplomats work as part of Boeing's sales force, the New York Times documents today (here's the full set of documents). From my skimming the docs, there doesn't seem to be a noticeable difference between the Obama administration and the Bush administration. This is just the way our government works.

The article doesn't go into all the more direct corporate welfare Boeing gets, including an entire government agency that spends most of its resources subsidizing Boeing sales -- the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which dedicated 90 percent of its loan guarantees to Boeing sales last year.

But if anyone finds it distasteful for our public officials to work so hard to sell Boeing jets, you should pay attention to more of President Obama's actions and rhetoric. Obama's moderate economic nationalism, in which he always talks as if the U.S. as a country is competing economically against other countries, lends itself to our boosting Boeing. His goal of boosting U.S. exports also leads to more Boeing subsidies.

I wrote about this economic nationalism last year at Ex-Im's annual conference:

"If we stand on the sidelines," the president said Thursday, "while they [China and Germany] go after those customers, we'll lose out on the chance to create the good jobs our workers need right here at home. That's why standing on the sidelines is not what we intend to do. ... We need to up our game."

By "up our game," Obama largely means increase government subsidies for exporters -- greater taxpayer funding for export promotion programs, new "public-private partnerships" and more aggressive government advocacy.

This requires us to "summon a sense of national purpose," and "come together in common cause," the president said.

Such inspirational Hope-Change talk is Obama's forte, but in the context of commerce, "national purpose" and "common cause," like Immelt's talk of "unanimity" and companies and governments acting as "a pack," is a departure from America's traditions. Competition, not cooperation, has made us the most prosperous economy in the world.

And, contrary to popular myth, business-government cooperation tends to favor the most wealthy while keeping the small guy down. Look at Obama's venue Thursday -- the Export-Import Bank. Ex-Im last year dedicated 64 percent of its loans and long-term guarantees just to subsidize Boeing sales. Speaking of Boeing, Obama announced this week that Boeing's CEO, Jim McNerney, will chair the President's Export Council.

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Timothy P. Carney

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