Posts tagged with: free trade

Blog author: TGroenendal
Thursday, June 30, 2016


Abraham Kuyper (1837 – 1920) | Wikimedia Commons

The benefits of free trade are vast, and enjoyed throughout the world.  The alternative — trade restricted by protective tariffs and quotas — concentrates benefits to a protected few who profit due to less competition from foreign competitors.

The morality of free trade is clear. Individuals can choose what they buy from where, linking the world through a network of exchange. Integration through trade and exchange is a major factor lifting people out of poverty. The more and freer the trade, the better for human flourishing. Despite this, there is a growing protectionist movement in the United States political landscape.

In Abraham Kuyper’s book Antirevolutionaire Staatkunde (or Anti-Revolutionary Politics), he discusses his political support of tariff increases in the Netherlands. One of Kuyper’s arguments in defense of tariffs is a moral argument, which stems from concerns over unemployment. He writes:

Excessive enthusiasm for Free Trade and for free movement of population can deprive men of work who would otherwise have it in abundance. Free Trade can have as a consequence that many items are fabricated abroad so that there is no work to be done here. This can be observed in its simplest form in the case of lumber. If unsawed logs are imported, then the wages of sawing can be earned here. If, however, lumber arrives sawed, then the wages for sawing are lost here. (more…)

In the hubbub surrounding Brexit, many conservatives have cheered the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, hailing it as a win for freedom, democracy, and local sovereignty.

Yet for those who disagree, support for Brexit is painted as necessarily driven by fear, xenophobia, and protectionism. Although fear of immigrants and narrow nationalism have surely played their part, such sentiments and attitudes aren’t the only drivers at play, and they mustn’t be heeded if Brexit is actually going to succeed.

Indeed, for conservatives in the vein of Edmund Burke, the reasons for supporting Brexit are necessarily different. Political withdrawal from the EU needn’t, nay, mustn’t mean isolation from outside markets or a freeze on the movement of labor.

As Hannan outlines in a marvelous speech given prior to the vote, this isn’t about protectionism, but about preserving a tradition of freedom and democracy. It isn’t about a fear of outsiders, but about a basic belief in the principle of subsidiarity.


edmund-burkeThe Republican Party is fracturing on the topic of trade. Alas, in the same corners where free and open exchange was once embraced as a propeller for economic growth and dynamism, protectionism is starting to stick.

In response, free traders are pushing the typical arguments about growth, innovation, and prosperity. Others, such as myself, are noting that the trend has less to do with economic illiteracy than it does with a protectionism of the heart — a self-seeking ethos that wants “economic freedom” only insofar as it poses no threat to the preferred wage, vocation, or plot of dirt.

We have forgotten that work is not about us. It’s about serving others, and adapting that service when the signals say, “yes.”

On this, the “communitarian” wing of conservatism tends to push back, accusing free traders of being overly comfortable with social disruption and displacement, prioritizing efficiency and cheap widgetry over “stability” and “social well-being.”

Such critics would do well to heed Edmund Burke, one of the movement’s heroes. Burke was a staunch supporter of free trade not because he was indifferent to disruption, but because the alternative would cause much, much more.  (more…)

navy_shipsThe 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:

bernie-sanders-photo1In last Tuesday’s Democratic debate, Senator Bernie Sanders stayed true to his famed aversion to capitalism, proclaiming the fanciful virtues of “democratic socialism.” Yet when prodded by Anderson Cooper — who asked, “you don’t consider yourself a capitalist?” — Sanders responded not by attacking free markets, but by targeting a more popular target of discontent: Wall Street and the banks.

“Do I consider myself part of the casino capitalist process by which so few have so much and so many have so little, by which Wall Street’s greed and recklessness wrecked this economy?” Sanders asked. “No, I don’t.”

One could be forgiven for not understanding what Sanders means by “casino capitalism.” Is it crony capitalism, in which legislative favors are secured by the rich and powerful (which conservatives also disdain)? Is it bailouts for the big banks (which, again, conservatives also disdain)? Is it basic trade and exchange on a large, complex scale, and if so, at what size does it become problematic? Does he despise the stock exchange itself? Too loud with all its blinky lights and bells? (more…)

trade21Many conservatives exhibit a peculiar tendency to be pro-liberty when it comes to business, trade, and wages, but protectionist when it comes to the economic effects of immigration.

It’s an odd disconnect, and yet, as we’ve begun to see with figures like Donald Trump and Rick Santorum, one side is bound to eventually give way. They’ll gush about the glories of competition, but the second immigration gets brought up, they seem to defer to labor-union talking points from ages past.

When pressed on this in a recent podcast, immigration protectionist Mark Krikorian argued that the difference is that immigrants are people not products, and thus they make things a bit more problematic. It’s more complicated and disruptive, he argues, when you’re dealing with actual people who have diverse and ever-shifting dreams. (more…)

lonely-workerWhen it comes to free trade, critics insist that it hurts the American worker — kicking them while they’re down and slowly eroding the communal fabric of mom-and-pops, longstanding trades, and factory towns. Whether it comes from a politician, labor union, or corporate crony, the messaging is always the same: Ignore the long-term positive effects, and focus on the Capitalist’s conquest of the Other.

Trouble is, the basic logic of such thought leads straight back to the Self.

I recently made this point as it pertains to immigration, arguing that such notions of narrow self-preservation give way to our basest instincts and are bad for society as a whole. But it’s worth considering a bit more broadly, as well. For if the point is to defend the Small and the Local for the sake of The Great and Enduring Bubble of American Industry, at what point is this community of workers too big, too specialized, and too diversified for its own countrymen?

At what point are the Texans getting “unfair” growth compared to the Californians, or the Californians compared to the Oklahomians? If this is all as dim and zero-sum as we’re led to believe, what must we do to prevent our fellow productive citizens from harming their fellow countrymen via innovation and hard work? What bleak, self-centered reality dwells at the end of such logic? (more…)