Editor's Note: Protectionism in Politics and Prose
As Lou Dobbs could tell you, these are pretty good times to be a protectionist. The CNN host and U.S. News & World Report columnist is enjoying a burst of attention for his outspoken and repeated attacks on, as he put it in a typical U.S. News piece in March, the "laissez-faire doctrine of free trade [that] has liberated successive administrations, Republican and Democratic, from responsibility for their trade decisions." Chief among the effects of freer trade, charge Dobbs and many others, is the "offshoring" of good-paying American jobs to less developed countries such as India and China.
Such an argument plays particularly well in an election season marked by trade deficits, uneven job growth, and increased fear of foreigners, especially ones willing to work low-wage jobs in the U.S. (Dobbs laments that "Bush advocates a guest worker program for illegal aliens, while Kerry just wants to provide amnesty to many of them.") Like Dobbs, calls for tariffs, taxes on businesses that employ workers in other countries, and other restrictive measures are getting more attention than they have in years.
Yet as Brink Lindsey underscores in "10 Truths About Trade," the Dobbses of the world are wrong (see page 24). "The overall trend is toward more and better jobs for American workers," writes Lindsey, author of Against the Dead Hand: The Uncertain Struggle for Global Capitalism. Not only has the job market kept pace with massive increases in the labor supply, it has done so by creating more managerial and specialized professional jobs. Between 1983 and 2002, notes Lindsey, such "challenging and high-paying positions have jumped from 23.4 percent of total employment to 31.1 percent."
A dozen years ago, it was Ross Perot who complained of the "giant sucking sound" of U.S. jobs being lost to Mexico. Lindsey argues convincingly that today's protectionists have made the same mistake Perot did: They've confused "a temporary, cyclical downturn with a permanent reduction in the economy's job-creating capacity….The U.S. economy is not running out of good jobs; it is merely coming out of a recession."
Reason Web Editor Tim Cavanaugh's "Ulysses Unbound" (page 50) points to a different peril of protectionism: It seeks to stifle the sort of creativity that revitalizes cultural icons. June 16 marks the 100th anniversary of "Bloomsday," the fictional day on which James Joyce's modernist masterpiece takes place. Though one of the most difficult literary texts of all time, Ulysses has improbably inspired countless fan communities, re-enactments, and related spinoffs (including a Dutch dance hit!). Indeed, as Cavanaugh reports, some 50,000 tourists are expected in Dublin alone to celebrate Bloomsday this year. All this activity has happened despite the wishes of Joyce's grandson, who regained control over the book's copyright a decade ago and has tried to stifle adaptations he considers "inappropriate." For the moment, James Joyce's fans have the upper hand over his heir. But whether in politics or prose, protectionism, like Molly Bloom's moans, are never very far away.