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How My Inner Protectionist Supported a Policy that Harms Africans

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africa-clothesI don’t like to be wrong. But I also like to think that I’m open-minded enough to change my opinion when I am wrong (although I could be wrong about how open-minded I am).

I try to carefully consider the arguments other people make (at least most of the time), but on occasion, I’m convinced I’m wrong by the person I listen to most: myself.

Here, for example, is the gist of a conversation I had with myself last week:

Me: [After listening to Trump trash free trade] Aargh. I don’t get it. Why do so many Americans support protectionism?

Me: But don’t you support protectionism?

Me: No, of course I don’t. You know me better than that.

Me: Really? I thought you opposed free clothing donations because it hinders the textile industry.

Me: That’s silly. When have I ever thought that was true?

Me: When the textile industry is in an African country.

Me: Oh, well, that’s different. As that article notes the “endless supply of used apparel stifles the growth of local textile industries.”

Me: So you no longer believe “For the Good of Mankind, Side With the Consumer”?

Me: Um . . . yeah, I still completely believe that.

Me: But you believe it only for American consumers and not African consumers, right?

Me: That’s not fair.

Me: And remember when you said we should think about free trade like Bryan Caplan says: “We’d be better off if other countries gave us stuff for free. Isn’t ‘really cheap’ the next-best thing?”

Me: Yeah, I remember.

Well, the U.S. is literally giving free stuff (i.e., clothing) to African consumers. How is that not making them better off since the money they save on clothing can be spent on other goods and services?

Me: Okay, okay, I get it. Maybe I was wrong.

I think I was wrong. In fact, I’m pretty sure I was wrong. And by being wrong I was supporting a policy that would have harmed African consumers.

But just in case, let me open it up to Acton readers to confirm my suspicion: Is there something I’m missing? Is there a legitimate reason to support protectionism in poor countries but not in wealthier ones? And doesn’t cheap goods and services help every consumer — especially the poor — whether they are living in America or Africa?

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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