The evening news reports there has been a complete blockade of the U.S. On the East Coast of the United States, Russian forces have instituted a naval and air blockade, similar to the one being imposed by China on our West Coast. A similar blockade has been set up on the borders of Canada and Mexico.
The blockade is somewhat porous. People are allowed to pass through freely (but only if they are not trying to enter the U.S. illegally). Exports from the U.S. also are unhindered. But all imported goods from every nation on earth are being kept out.
What would be your reaction? Well, naturally you’d cheer. This is great news! Someone has finally stopped the “invasion” of foreign products into our homeland. Without cheap imports flooding our market prices will have to rise, which means increased wages and better jobs. Factories will have to open since everything will need to be made in the good ol’ US of A. Unemployment will plummet since the demand for workers will spike. Our economy will soon be booming!
Wait, what’s that you say? You don’t think it’s a good idea? You say such provocation would be an act of war?
Okay, what if the blockade was limited. Instead of completely keeping out foreign goods, the blockading countriesmerely require importing countries to pay a “toll” of between 10 and 40 percent. And to keep the peace, the blockaders even give the money collected from the tolls to the U.S government. That would be almost as good, wouldn’t it? Maybe even better?
No? You still say the blockade would be an act of war? That it’d make us all worse off than before?
Of course, you’d be right. A naval blockade by foreign countries would hinder, not help, our economy. So why do we allow in peace what we oppose in war?
That was the question asked in the 19th century by the American economist Henry George. In his book Protection or Free Trade, George explained how voluntary governmental restrictions on trade are the same as blockades in a time of war by foreign nations: