Idiocracy: It's Not Just a Movie Any More

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Because I have been wrapped up in print-magazine obligations (check your mailbox in one month, and subscribe in the meantime, including for our great new issue), I didn’t stop to mention the idiotic Congressional effort to defund the Export-Import bank while that debate was underway.

The anti-ExIm push has succeeded for now, and the results of this self-inflicted folly are starting to come in. The GOP/TeaParty case against ExIm was that it was another case of big government over-reach, and crony capitalism as well. As one of the Koch brothers-originated lobbying groups working against the bank piously puts it:

FreedomWorks explains it to us

Let’s not stop to marvel at this spectacle: an industrial combine whose mining, pipeline, refinery, and other operations have been intimately connected with, and frequently protected by, government policies, inveighing against the crony-capitalist state.

Instead let’s look at the results.

The anti-ExIm argument was that big, rich companies like Boeing or GE should not depend on taxpayer help for financing their sales to customers overseas. That might sound true enough, within the confines of the 11th-grade Ayn Rand Debating Club.

In the actual world we inhabit, those firms are competing with others from Europe, China, Japan, Brazil, Russia, South Korea, etc. From places, that is, where government officials dozed through (or laughed at) the Ayn Rand part of the economics courses and are happy to promote their own exporters.

The results? Here’s one, from a Reuters story yesterday:

Thanks, Tea Party!
And this similar report about changes in the industrial landscape, from an American reader with extensive experience doing deals in China, the U.K., other parts of Europe, and Russia. He writes:

I met in London today with developers of a huge infrastructure project who told me that the manufacture of several key large components is being switched from the United States to Europe because of the expected nonavailability of export financing support from the US, because of the import export bank financing debate.

Thanks, GOP.

As the NYT said today in a strikingly sassy editorial, the circa-2015 version of the GOP has convinced itself that the details of actually running the government don’t matter. All that matters are the talking points.

The ExIm consequences are just one example of where that know-nothing posture leads, and not even the most destructive.

The anti-vaccine blather of this week’s GOP debate, which to their discredit the two doctors on stage let pass without rebuttal, may cause life-and-limb harm, rather than just economic loss. The chest-beating about “day one” strikes around the world is more ominous still. And then there are the climate issues…

But if you want a simple, clear example of why flat-Earth, who-cares-about-the-consequences posturing matters, you’ve got it here with the ExIm bank.

Idiocracy: it’s not just a movie any more.

Update I see just now that my friend (and former Texas Monthly colleague) Joe Nocera is weighing in on this point in his NYT column. He writes:

The damage this is doing to our economy is starting to become clear. In recent weeks, Boeing, America’s largest exporter in dollar volume, made two sobering announcements: first, that Asia Broadcast Satellite canceled an $85 million satellite contract expressly because there was no Ex-Im support. (Boeing is hoping to renegotiate.) More recently, Kacific, a Singapore-based satellite company, told Boeing not to bother bidding on a satellite contract, again because of a lack of Ex-Im financing.

As a result, McNerney told me, “layoffs in the hundreds” have taken place in Boeing’s satellite division.

I could be polite about this, but I won’t. The people bringing down the Export-Import bank are morons zealots who care more about their theories than the completely foreseeable damage they are doing to American workers and companies.