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A trade ‘war’ preemptive strike

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Over at Providence today, I say a bit about the Trump administration’s trade policy as well as the President’s rhetoric. Here’s a snip:

A sober defense of free trade aspires toward freer and freer exchange, even while it recognizes the necessities of incremental improvements and the messiness of politics. President Trump’s tirades against free trade are instructive here. At some level his pronouncements capture an element that free traders have tended to overlook: there are economic costs of globalization that are unequally borne by a subset of the national citizenry. So too are there cultural, social, and spiritual consequences, which range from great to galling.

Listening to some of the coverage in recent weeks about the threatened tariffs, it seems worth noting that a trade ‘war’ is pretty different from an actual war, to such an extent that it might be worth retiring the phrase ‘trade war.’ The dynamics between trade and war, protectionism and peace, are well worth considering too. It was a maxim of twentieth-century foreign policy that “If soldiers are not to cross international boundaries on missions of war, goods must cross them on missions of peace.”

Things move quickly in 2018, and in the few days since I originally drafted “Trump’s Trade Tirades” in the wake of the G7 summit there have been new threats and counter-threats, including tariffs to the tune of $200 billion on Chinese imports to the US and $3.2 billion on US goods going to the EU. The NYT has a handy reference to keep track of all the back and forth.

And speaking of the Times, today’s edition carries a powerful argument for a preemptive strike in the looming trade war: drop all tariffs. As Veronique de Rugy puts it, “By lowering its trade barriers, a government enriches its citizens regardless of the policies implemented by foreign governments.” Consider it the foreign policy equivalent of heaping burning coals on the head of one’s enemies. From a purely self-serving conception, protectionism makes a country weaker in the longer-term as it is artificially exempted from competition. Protectionism makes a people weaker, not stronger, stupider, not smarter, and more importantly, more selfish and less loving.

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Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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