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…)