Acton Institute Powerblog

Law & Liberty forum helps break down free markets versus economic nationalism debate

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Since 2015, I have spent more time than I could ever have imagined debating the issue of whether free markets are more optimal for the United States (or any other country) than the various policies usually grouped together under the phrase “economic nationalism.” It’s a discussion that touches on questions ranging from the place of economics in determining policy to issues of foreign policy (most particularly, America’s relationship with China) and the economic role of the state. It also has implications for the future of conservative thought and policy.

There is a great deal of theory and information to be absorbed in order to understand this complex discussion and the deeper political and economic debates which drive it. It is very easy to get lost in the micro-details (though these are important). Now, however, thanks to one of the Liberty Fund’s superb online publications, Law & Liberty, anyone interested in reading succinct summaries of the debate can find them at one of Law & Liberty’s January 2020 Forum.

The Law & Liberty Forum begins with an essay, titled “How Economic Nationalism Hurts Nations” (January 6, 2020) by yours truly. Responses to my article are then made by Oren Cass in his “Comparative Disadvantage” (January 15, 2020), Daniel McCarthy in his “Economic Nationalism and Political Realism” (January 22, 2020) and Richard M. Reinsch III in his “Economic Nationalism Can’t Heal the U.S.” (January 27, 2020). The last article in the Forum is my response to Cass, McCarthy and Reinsch, titled “Why the Case for Economic Nationalism Fails” (January 31, 2020).

Wherever you stand on these questions, I think these essays provide a fair representation of the different positions. Indeed, a number of these pieces have been republished at Real Clear Policy and Real Clear Markets. They have also sparked debates and commentary at publications such as National Review and organizations like the American Institute for Economic Research (here and here). There is a great deal at stake in these debates; it follows that the more informed people are, the better.

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Samuel Gregg is director of research at the Acton Institute. He has written and spoken extensively on questions of political economy, economic history, ethics in finance, and natural law theory. He has an MA in political philosophy from the University of Melbourne, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in moral philosophy and political economy from the University of Oxford.