A good globalist can speak many languages. French is useful in Geneva. A phrase or two in German will pay off. Even a Marathi idiom can pay dividends in Mumbai.
In Northwest D.C., earlier this month, the self-described "Davos Crowd," got a lesson in a new language: Trump-era nationalist populism.
The venue was the chandelier-laden ballroom of the Omni Shoreham hotel in Woodley Park. The occasion was the annual conference of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, the federal agency that subsidizes U.S. exports by extending taxpayer-backed financing to foreign buyers of U.S. goods.
A crowd of global bankers, ranging from the National Bank of Egypt to Zurich Bank, and manufacturers from Boeing to Embraer came to grease the skids of global trade.
Ever since the Tea Party got serious about battling corporate welfare in 2012, the Ex-Im annual conference has also been, in part, a lobbying pep rally to fight for the agency's continued existence. This year, the lobbying goal was bringing Ex-Im up to full speed by filling the vacancies on the board of directors (without a quorum, Ex-Im can't approve deals greater than $10 million).
The first panel at this year's conference lamented and addressed growing populist tides. The panelists, including Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News honchos, didn't try to hide their tribal loyalties.
"We, the Davos crowd, oversold globalization as an end itself," worried David Wessell, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Greg Ip of the Wall Street Journal tried to ease the crowd by assuring that the "globalist wing" of the White House is on the defensive but that it still could win (this was before Trump's reversals on NATO, China, Ex-Im, and Janet Yellen).
How to save the globalization agenda was the theme of the panel, and the global crowd of globe-trotting bankers nodded with concern.
After that panel, Ex-Im brought in two congressmen whose job it was to rehearse the populist, national pitch for Ex-Im.
Congressmen Chris Collins, R-N.Y., (himself a recipient of Ex-Im subsidies) and Mike Kelly, R-Pa., took the stage to talk "America First," and the need to knock out China. "We've been on the losing end of one bad deal after another," Collins said of NAFTA and the rest of the globalization agenda. "Make America First Again. Make it great and put us first," Collins said.
"Trump gets it. He's going to put America first," Collins said to this crowd from dozens of countries and every continent. "We need to really stand up to some of these countries that we have significant deficits with on trade." So Ex-Im, rather than being a subsidy for global bankers and globe trotters, is now being sold as an economic nationalist undertaking.
The following Tuesday, April 11, Trump met with longtime Boeing CEO Jim McNerney. On Wednesday April 12, Trump told the Wall Street Journal that he had changed his mind and now supported Ex-Im, which in the typical year extends about 40 percent of its financing to Boeing's customers. Ex-Im was needed, Trump said, to beat other countries, which subsidize their exports, after all.
Selling Ex-Im as a nationalist entity is a bit odd, though. Siemens, a preeminent Germany company, won Ex-Im's deal of the year in 2015 for helping a Spanish company build two wind farms in Peru. Is this an example of "America First?"
Ex-Im's biggest subsidies don't go to U.S. companies, but to foreign companies, and to Chinese companies above all. A majority of Ex-Im's China subsidies go to government-owned businesses, such as the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China — the largest bank in the world — and Air China. Heck, twice in recent years, U.S. Ex-Im directly subsidized the Export-Import Bank of China.
The world's export subsidizers aren't Ex-Im's competitors as Collins would say and as Trump seems to believe. They're all part of a global club. Katsuyoshi Goto, a representative of NEXI, one of Japan's export-subsidy agencies, met with me at a recent annual conference. "NEXI is more a collaborator with U.S. Ex-Im rather than competitor," he said. "The U.S. Ex-Im is more the partner of NEXI."
But to win over Trump and U.S. congressmen, this global Kumbaya story doesn't help Ex-Im's cause. Instead, the agency's beneficiaries speak the nationalist language: Ex-Im is for America against China.
The true us-vs-them fight here is different.
The "us" who benefit from Ex-Im were the people in that ballroom: bankers, journalists, manufacturers, lawyers, lobbyists, politicians from around the world, whose common bond is access to power and capital. This tribe profits not from free trade, precisely, but from globalization, which sometimes means laissez-faire but often means subsidies and corporate welfare and powerful uber-governments like the European Union.
The "them" is the people left out of this deal. The Brexiteers in England and many of the Trumpers here in the U.S.
Ex-Im, like any government subsidy program, doesn't create wealth. It moves wealth around. Specifically, it moves wealth from non-exporting businesses to exporting businesses. The guy who wanted the loan to build a movie theater in Peoria can't get an Ex-Im guarantee, and so the loan goes to a Brazilian buyer of U.S. machinery. Manufacturers who sell domestically have to compete — for customers and inputs — with companies pocketing subsidies because they export.
So within the U.S., there's no net gain from these subsidies. But again, that's not the relevant boundary. The net gain goes to the Davos crowd.
China hurts its economy with export subsidies, but China's politically connected bankers and exporters benefit.
Yet with envoys like Collins and McNerney, the Ex-Im crowd has found a way to sell subsidies to China's government as an "America First" idea.
The globalist tribe is nothing if not flexible. These days, they've learned to speak even the language of Trump.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.