NR Digital

Protection Racket

by Ramesh Ponnuru

Critics of free trade traffic in myths

Advocacy for free trade can sometimes be dogmatic and utopian. It can overstate the contribution that reducing trade barriers makes to the spread of peace and democracy. It can ignore the harm that liberalized trade does to particular workers, industries, and communities. It can assert, dubiously, an absolute right to trade, positing that governments should never interfere in voluntary economic transactions.

People who want to raise trade barriers — by, for example, imposing higher tariffs to discourage the purchase of imports — often deny that they are protectionists and say that they themselves support free trade. They say they are merely being pragmatic rather than doctrinaire about it. Thus President-elect Donald Trump and his trade advisers say they are for trade deals, just smarter ones than the U.S. has been making over the last several decades. But while the case for freeing trade can be exaggerated, the case for protectionism frequently traffics in outright misconceptions.

Send a letter to the editor.

Get the NR Magazine App
iPad/iPhone   |   Android