Acton Institute Powerblog

Free trade is not anti-American

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Is protectionism patriotic? The recent discussions about free trade and protectionism seems to suggest it is. If you love your country, you’ll protect its economy. In a new article from The Stream, Samuel Gregg, Acton’s director of research, examines the growing hostility of American conservatism towards free trade and explains why supporting free trade is actually patriotic. He says:

Over the past four years, Americans have turned against free trade. A majority now see free trade as bad for America. The biggest growth in anti-free trade feeling has occurred among Republicans and conservatives.

There are many reasons for this shift. For one thing, not all Americans immediately win from the opening of markets. Another problem is free trade’s politically-poisonous association with the Davos internationalista set.

Gregg recognizes the shift in ideology among conservatives regarding trade and calls for free traders to take action:

That’s why it’s so vital for those who believe in free trade to ground this belief in love of country. American protectionists have always wrapped themselves in the Stars and Stripes. To support tariffs and subsidies, they say, means you’re a patriot. To favor free trade, the argument goes, implies that you care more about Japan than West Virginian coal miners. President John Quincy Adam’s Secretary of State, Henry Clay was an arch-protectionist. He portrayed free trade as a way for the British to re-colonize the United States!

But American protectionists haven’t played the patriotism card for petty reasons. They know that Americans don’t view love of country as crude and outdated. Americans are still patriotic compared to, say, most West Europeans. Over half of Americans own a flag.

That’s why free traders need to explain that free trade is the true patriotic choice.

Additionally, Gregg lays out some of the pitfalls of protectionism, and offers solutions to these problems that free trade is well-adept to solve:

The protectionist racket never seems to help American consumers — all 325,816,150 of them as of March 2017.

Even die-hard protectionists concede that free trade reduces prices. As Adam Smith observed long ago, open markets boost competition and help nations discover what they do well compared to everyone else. This lowers the prices of goods and services for every American, regardless of race, sex, religion, or economic status.

…But there’s another aspect of free trade that helps America overall. Free trade boosts competition. Competition helps Americans find their own weaknesses and strengths. It inspires us to innovate and create. It keeps U.S. firms on their toes. And it encourages them to focus on what customers need and want. That’s good for all Americans.

Protectionism, however, gives American businesses an incentive to do the opposite: to grow sluggish and spend money on lobbyists. Rather than focus on customers, they focus on politics. Politicians always notice noisy interest groups, especially if they get something in return.

In conclusion, Gregg articulates that the losers under protectionist policies are the common American people and that isolation and limitation of the American economy is something “hardly American.”

And who are the biggest losers from these deals? Again, it’s the 325 million American consumers who, unlike businesses, are spread out around the country and don’t have lobbyists.

American patriots should be concerned for the well-being of all Americans. How is it patriotic to favor groups with political connections at the expense of weaker Americans? This means more privileges for the few, and less liberty and justice for all.

And that, to say the least, is hardly American.

To read Gregg’s article, visit The Stream here.

Image: Public Domain