Free Trade

On Free Trade, Even Karl Marx Is Smarter Than Donald Trump

Marx “was a champion of free trade, and no friend of tariff barriers.”

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Donald Trump is an avowed enemy of free trade. "We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs," Trump declared in his 2017 inaugural address. "Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength."

Most economists disagree with that assessment. As they will tell you, free (or even just freer) trade benefits all parties involved. Protectionism, by contrast, hurts consumers and businesses alike.

Unfortunately, Trump is not alone in his economic ignorance. Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) also dislikes free trade, denouncing it as "part of a global race to the bottom to boost the profits of large corporations."

Perhaps Trump and Sanders should each spend a little time studying Karl Marx. Yes, that Karl Marx. Although the fact is often forgotten today, Marx had a number of positive things to say about what we now call globalization. As the left-wing economist Meghnad Desai documented in his enlightening 2002 book Marx's Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism, Marx "was a champion of free trade, and no friend of tariff barriers." Indeed, Marx saw global capitalism as a revolutionary force that, in the words of The Communist Manifesto, "rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life." What is more, the Manifesto continued:

The bourgeoise, during its rule of scarcely one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature's forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground—what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?

To be sure, Marx welcomed these revolutionary capitalist forces because he saw them as the means to an end. Namely, he believed that they would shape and form a self-aware proletariat class, which, in turn, would then lead the world into a glorious communist future (the details are hazy about how that part was supposed to happen). But in the meantime, Marx absolutely wanted free trade to thrive so that capitalism could work its magic. This is the same process, incidentally, that the economist Joseph Schumpeter famously likened to a "gale of creative destruction,"

Alas, if only Trump and Sanders could be as smart about free trade as Marx and Schumpeter.

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157 responses to “On Free Trade, Even Karl Marx Is Smarter Than Donald Trump

  1. *pops popcorn*

    This should be good.

    1. zOMG, Reason is defending Karl Marx now?!?!?! I knew they were secretly socialists!

      1. Psst, CMW, it was never really a secret.

      2. Explain how ‘free trade’ exists under totalitarian statism.

        Marx could promise Utopia, but that doesn’t mean Marxism could deliver. Same goes for his notions of ‘free’ trade.

        1. Explain how ‘free trade’ exists under totalitarian statism.

          It can’t. That’s why ultimately Marx was an anarchist. Totalitarian socialists are about as Marxist as the pigs in Animal Farm are egalitarians.

          Marx could promise Utopia, but that doesn’t mean Marxism could deliver.

          True, that.

          1. “Marx was an anarchist.”

            No. Just no.

          2. Marx was an advocate of Free Trade because he believed it would ultimately lead to socialism. He believed Free Trade was the ultimate vehicle to destroy capitalism as it would stratify the people and make socialism more palatable to the masses.

            1. Free trade with other Socialist paradises? Ones that were more efficient at production of a certain product? Yet when has Socialism ever been efficient at anything other than imprisoning and killing citizens?

      3. Fonzie already came out as against blaming mass murder on Communists or Communism itself a few weeks ago

        1. Fonzie is still alive?

    2. This article is certainly an article. That’s for sure.

      1. Prove it.

    3. On Trade with China, Even HBO Comedies are smarter than Reason

  2. Damon Root is OBL?

    1. OBL’s satire as been surpassed and rendered irrelevant by the vanguard of Reasontarian thought.

    2. Reason has to be sheeting me.

      Marx good, Trump bad.

      Someone, please tell the editors at Reason that we don’t actually have free trade with China.

  3. Marx believed that Capitalists and Capitalism would produce rope with which they’d hang themselves. I haven’t read ALL of Marx’s writings, but I’ve read a bit, and I’m wondering if the above excerpt taken in a larger context was Marx hoping that capitalism and free trade would accelerate the bloody Marxist revolution. You know, sort of how various creeps want a race riot.

    1. Marx is basically saying that free trade will destroy the middle class, therefore he is for it.

      How that makes him smarter than Trump is anyone’s guess. The whole premise of this article is ridiculous and ignorant.

      1. Were you really exacting anything different?

    2. I also can’t help but wonder what free trade means in this context? I do believe Marx believed in a world-wide communism, and then the concept of free trade becomes somewhat meaningless, or at least very different from how we use it now.

      1. I can say with a high degree of confidence that Marx wanted free trade in Marxism– he definitely believed that communism was going to be a world-wide force and wasn’t something dedicated to a population in a single internationally recognized region.

      2. I also can’t help but wonder what free trade means in this context?

        The concepts of “Capitalism” and “Free Markets” and the concepts of “Socialism” and “Communism” are fairly hopelessly obfuscated and conflated in modern conversations.

        Marx believed in the ideal of free markets, as you can see in my favorite quote from Das Kapital in which Marx lays out the endgame of the Revolution:

        “This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all.

        One of Marx’s most fundamental arguments is that the essence of (erroneous) capitalist ideology is that free markets and “Capitalism” are the same thing, such that much of what Marx complains about in his contemporary political moment is that policies that benefit the capitalist class are packaged as “free market” when they are in fact often just the opposite.

        One of Marx’s greatest complaints, though, the one that he was arguably most furious about, was socialists conflating anarcho-communism with authoritarian socialism and pretending that socialism is a realization of Marxism rather than a rejection of it (which is what it actually is).

        Oddly enough, in the end, Marx believed in free markets and that elimination of the government was the key to securing them. He just had some funny ideas about how to get there.

        1. One of Marx’s greatest complaints, though, the one that he was arguably most furious about, was socialists conflating anarcho-communism with authoritarian socialism and pretending that socialism is a realization of Marxism rather than a rejection of it (which is what it actually is).

          Hence the “libertarian Marxist” which gets peoples hackles up ’round these parts. It’s why Emma Goldman rejected Stalinism in the end. It’s just too bad it took her so long to realize the mistake.

          1. Hence the “libertarian Marxist” which gets peoples hackles up ’round these parts.

            Precisely. I used to describe myself that way, but stopped because people just seem to find it too confusing. Marx is woefully misrepresented by both his detractors and his supporters, and almost no one reads the primary texts for themselves anymore.

            1. >>>Marx is woefully misrepresented by both his detractors and his supporters, and almost no one reads the primary texts for themselves anymore.

              Shakespeare on line 2, Jesus on line 3 …

        2. Which is so much as to say that while Root isn’t 100% wrong

          Marx absolutely wanted free trade to thrive so that capitalism could work its magic

          is a fuzzy and ultimately incorrect understanding of the distinction Marx draws between free trade and capitalism. He was against attempts to mollify the proletariat and restrain capitalism because he saw the violent overthrow of bourgeois capitalist states as a necessary precondition for anarchic free markets.

          1. How do you feel about his emphasis on labour as the ultimate determination of value?

            Also, it sounds like you’re saying I’m extremely misconceiving his ideas of capitalism and trade. Can you give a quick overview of his view of capitalism. I would certainly agree that these terms are extremely muddied, and that a huge amount of argumentation both here and elsewhere is based around people arguing using different underlying terms.

            1. Therein lies the rub. Marx is fundamentally wrong about where value comes from. Since economics is all about value scales, his economics cannot possibly be correct.

              1. ^ Said it much more succinctly than I did.

            2. How do you feel about his emphasis on labour as the ultimate determination of value?

              I think it’s maybe his single biggest mistake, and he spends literally hundreds of pages of Das Kapital doubling down on it and insisting that it makes perfect sense despite all the evidence against it. It’s a good demonstration of how really smart people can sometimes use their own brains against themselves.

              Mostly I think he can’t shake Hegelian notions of absolute truths, and he therefore thinks of value as being an absolute attribute of a thing rather than as a function of market, and he’s just wrong, again and again, such that his whole theory of capitalist exploitation really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

              Can you give a quick overview of his view of capitalism.

              Marx is actually not super-duper consistent over the course of his writings, as you can see from the fellow down-page who dug up a quote from Marx explicitly rejecting free markets to complement my quote of him explicitly praising them.

              But in essence, Marx’s notion of “Capitalism” is that those who came into the industrial era from positions of power and wealth inherited from feudalism (think East India Company, as an example) have been able to use that money/power combination to extract sums of money from labor that can then be pooled to invest in new modes of production from which they further extract money from labor to grow their capital. What then results is a tail-wagging-the-dog situation in which society exists to serve the needs of capital, and workers exist merely to have capital extracted from them only to cast them aside once they are “used up.”

              Marx spends a lot of time documenting laws that are designed to restrict trade (particularly the trade in labor) in order to benefit capital, and thus saw that free trade, while the darling of capitalist rhetoric (dare we say “Capitalist Ideology?”), was actually anathema to the European capitalist class.

              But you can find Marx arguing both that government can’t be trusted to ever take the side of the proletariat and that only government regulation of the economy can help the proletariat to stand up to the capitalists, so he’s not particularly consistent there, either.

    3. I haven’t read ALL of Marx’s writings, but I’ve read a bit, and I’m wondering if the above excerpt taken in a larger context was Marx hoping that capitalism and free trade would accelerate the bloody Marxist revolution

      Yeah, I think this is true. I’m pretty sure that would make him as dumb as the rest of the socialists, who didn’t realize that capitalism makes everyone richer.

    4. Karl’s groupies invented the term Capitalism to refer to monopolistic, slaveholding mercantilism, most of it monarchic. It has nothing to do with laissez-faire other than through the wishful doublethink that transubstantiates liberal into communist because liberals do not seek to ban birth control.

  4. Marx advocated many policies that would destroy the bourgeois (the middle class).

    It was his entire point. This article is idiotic and c ok completely missed the point.

    Fucking reason.

    1. We should put tariffs on butthurt. The budget would be balanced immediately.

      1. A tariff on your idiocy could indeed solve the entire US fiscal crisis, seeing as how it is apparently limitless.

        Wouldn’t even have to be a big tariff.

        1. That doesn’t even make sense. I am but one man, whereas conservative butthurt is legion.

          1. Where did the bad man touch you, eunuch?

            We all know where he couldn’t

      2. Self awareness eludes you.

    2. I think Damon admits that at the end.

      To be sure, Marx welcomed these revolutionary capitalist forces because he saw them as the means to an end. Namely, he believed that they would shape and form a self-aware proletariat class, which, in turn, would then lead the world into a glorious communist future

      This article just seems to be trolling Trump supporters. While, slightly amusing from that aspect, I wouldn’t take it as much more than that.

      1. While, slightly amusing from that aspect, I wouldn’t take it as much more than that.

        Yeah – I think Root’s rhetorical point is “look how Trump is dumber on the economy than the dumbest economist ever!”

        Which as much as I will defend Marx on philosophical grounds, his economics are shit.

        1. I wholly endorse this comment.

          1. Groveling is the only thing eunuch can wholly do

    3. Reason is reprinting the looter press, maybe to prove to Cruz we are not biased?

  5. Trade with China pre President Trump was not free trade. We pretended it was China made sure it was not. China is becoming a menace to the world and we are financing it. If you don’t agree with Trumps path to try and resolve that issue what path would you recommend. Status quo is not acceptable.

    1. The only plan I’ve heard bleated out here hysterically is for us to u laterally drop all our trade barriers without any concessions from trade partners.

      That would be just awesome (sarc).

      1. That would in fact be awesome, as anyone who is not economically braindead understands.

        1. It would be awesome provided we reduce US government spending to a few percent of GDP, abolish all government welfare, and remove almost all US regulations within the US.

          Within the context of the current US and Chinese regulatory and fiscal regimes, however, only someone who is economically braindead would think that dropping all our trade barriers unilaterally would be “awesome”.

          1. Yeah, all those things would be awesome.

            Within the context of the current US and Chinese regulatory and fiscal regimes, however, only someone who is economically braindead would think that dropping all our trade barriers unilaterally would be “awesome”.

            You realize that your argument is basically that the only way to beat socialism is to out-regulate them. Because all the regulations of socialism are so bad, that we can’t possibly compete!

            1. No, his argument simply notes the reality that, since we have chosen to accept multiple decidedly unlibertarian governmental burdens, we have limited ability to adopt other libertarian practices.

              Much like the welfare state limits our ability to have open borders.

              1. I’m still not seeing any explanation of how having a government that does stuff it shouldn’t negates the benefits of trade being as free as possible.

              2. But you realize this is like saying that we can’t have any freedoms because we’re not free. It is a textbook application of the Nirvana fallacy.

                If socialism is in and of itself inefficient (it is), then we shouldn’t need to add aspects of socialism (centralized economic planning in the form of tariffs) to compete with it. That logic makes no sense.

                1. But you realize this is like saying that we can’t have any freedoms because we’re not free.

                  No, it’s not that at all. We aren’t talking about freedoms here, we’re talking about the economic effects of unilaterally dropping trade restrictions on China, and those effects would not be “awesome” at all, they would be disastrous.

                  If socialism is in and of itself inefficient (it is), then we shouldn’t need to add aspects of socialism (centralized economic planning in the form of tariffs) to compete with it. That logic makes no sense.

                  I agree. In fact, my point is the opposite: the US is “too socialist” right now to engage in unilateral unrestricted trade with other countries. Chinese government spending is only 20% of GDP, compared to American’s 40%. Much of US government spending is effectively corporate subsidies, and if we simply open our borders to trade unilaterally, Americans will be paying massive corporate subsidies to foreign companies.

                  1. Perfect is the enemy of the good, as the saying goes.

                    Unilaterally dropping all of our tariffs would be a market shock for sure. You could argue that maybe we should allow time for the markets to adjust to such a thing through incrementalism. But I can’t buy that we can never do it until we’ve achieved a completely free market (which will never happen).

                    if we simply open our borders to trade unilaterally, Americans will be paying massive corporate subsidies to foreign companies.
                    Even if this were true, the foreign companies can’t eat US Dollars. The dollars we trade for goods, whether it be government subsidies or through voluntary exchange come back to the US through other forms of trade and investments.

                    1. Even if this were true, the foreign companies can’t eat US Dollars. The dollars we trade for goods, whether it be government subsidies or through voluntary exchange come back to the US through other forms of trade and investments.

                      Indeed they will: foreigners buy US corporations, US real estate, and US politicians with the money we send them to buy their (implicitly) subsidized consumer goods. That makes the situation even worse.

                2. ” this is like saying that we can’t have any freedoms because we’re not free. ”

                  No, it is not. Firstly your ‘like’ is not an ‘as.’ And even as a ‘like’ it remains wrong. We have many freedoms, but we also have limitations due to other self imposed conditions.

                  Eliminate those conditions – e.g. the gross insult to liberty that IS the welfare state – and then we can also have greater liberty – e.g. reduced ore eliminated border restrictions.

            2. You realize that your argument is basically that the only way to beat socialism is to out-regulate them. Because all the regulations of socialism are so bad, that we can’t possibly compete!

              No, that’s not my argument at all. My argument is that US government spending and regulation is basically a massive subsidy of corporations. The cost of that subsidy is born by Americans and American corporations, but the benefits accrue to all corporations, foreign and domestic. If we unilaterally open our borders, Americans are going to pay massively in order to subsidize foreign corporations.

              In simple numbers, US government spending is 40% of GDP, while Chinese government spending is 20% of GDP. Using your terminology, the US is already “more socialist” than China. When the US becomes less socialist than China, then we can contemplate more free trade.

              1. US government spending and regulation is basically a massive subsidy of corporations.

                I’m not so sure about that. Yeah, there is subsidy. But the regulation is more of a fetter on corporations.

                I don’t understand your point about foreign corporations either. There are already tons of foreign corporations in the US. I work for one. They provide lots of jobs and economic activity for Americans. And pay lots of taxes (i.e. fund all that subsidy and regulation you are talking about).

                And you still haven’t shown how it relates to trade. Why does any of that mean that Americans should be taxed heavily if they want to buy something from another country?
                You basically seem to be saying that because we have lots of regulation and subsidy, we should have more regulation and taxes.

                1. But the regulation is more of a fetter on corporations.

                  The regulations are barriers to entry; they help the big players maintain near-monopoly positions and make far more profits than they would in a competitive market. (Look up: rent seeking.)

                  I don’t understand your point about foreign corporations either. There are already tons of foreign corporations in the US. I work for one. They provide lots of jobs and economic activity for Americans.

                  Yes, and the reason they are here is precisely because there is no unrestricted trade. If there were unrestricted trade, they would put their headquarters in a tax haven, manufacture in the cheapest location on the planet, and then ship everything tariff-free to US consumers.

                  Why does any of that mean that Americans should be taxed heavily if they want to buy something from another country?

                  Because if you remove the tariffs, Americans will be even worse off economically.

                  You basically seem to be saying that because we have lots of regulation and subsidy, we should have more regulation and taxes.

                  Indeed I am. The US is effectively a European-style welfare state at this point, with government spending nearly half of GDP. That needs to be paid for somehow. Europe pays for it with 50% taxes on the middle class, 20% VAT, and draconian import restrictions.

                  Without imposing massive new taxes on the US middle class, the US will go bankrupt; I don’t consider a bankrupt welfare state and Venezuela-like conditions to be a desirable libertarian objective. Of course, you’re free to disagree.

          2. Why can’t we have free trade without getting rid of those things? You provide no justification for that claim and it doesn’t seem obvious to me.

            1. We can always “have free trade” with anybody we want; the question is what the consequences are going to be, and they are going to be bad.

              Let’s take a very simple example. Assume US minimum wage is $15/hr and that of a free trading partner is $0/h with a cost of living 1/10th of that of the US to boot. What do you think is going to happen with workers who are worth less than $15/h? They are going to be out of work in the US and their jobs are going to move to the trading partner. To add insult to injury, American businesses and workers will get taxed so that those out of work workers can go on welfare.

              (In fact, “free trade” is really a misnomer, because free trade would also imply labor mobility, unrestricted movement of capital, and private money. What people talk about when they mean “free trade” is just shipping manufactured goods around the globe without tariffs, without opening borders to all the other goods that make up an economy.)

              1. I guess I mean something slightly different by “free trade”. The free trade that the US government can control is the freedom of Americans to engage in trade however they see fit. That’s the free trade I’m arguing for. We can’t, and never will, fix the rest of the world. Your standard of free trade is practically unattainable.

                1. I guess I mean something slightly different by “free trade”. The free trade that the US government can control is the freedom of Americans to engage in trade however they see fit. That’s the free trade I’m arguing for.

                  Yes, and I agree that from a rights point of view, that is attractive. Heck, I like to be able to buy stuff globally without paying taxes.

                  I’m simply saying that the economic consequences of that would be disastrous.

                  We can’t, and never will, fix the rest of the world. Your standard of free trade is practically unattainable.

                  Which is precisely why I’m saying that we can engage in unrestricted free trade only among states with similar social, regulator, fiscal, and welfare policies. That’s why we have these United States, and why the EU was formed, and it’s why these United States and the EU have unrestricted free trade internally while strongly restricting trade outside the borders of their respective unions.

                  1. Well, I will continue to disagree, but I appreciate the explanation of your position.

                  2. Fuck a bunch of that. We have normalized relations with Vietnam because we started trading with them. More free trade is ALWAYS better.

                    1. “Fuck a bunch of that. ”

                      About the level I expect you to operate on.

                    2. We have normalized relations with Vietnam because we started trading with them.

                      Because, of course, for the US government to normalize relations get into bed with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is the essence of libertarianism! /sarc

                      More free trade is ALWAYS better.

                      Better for who? For you? For my retirement portfolio? For Tim Cook? Probably. For middle class Americans? Not so much.

            2. I don’t agree with his argument.

              The reason we cannot have unilateral free trade is the same reason we can’t have pacifism in the face of invasion.

              Economic aggression must have consequences. Not all resources are infinite or evenly distributed or evenly distributed on timescales. There are ways to severely damage other countries economies. We have done it ourselves. Sanctions are basically extreme tariffs, and countries like N Korea or Iran wouldnt become prosperous with unilateral free trade in the face of that economic aggression.

      2. Actually Shitlord the hysterics are on the other side.

        The alternative is calm down. There was close to an agreement. China plays the long game. Trump just got up in the middle of the game and threw the table over.

        That may be a tactic but it is not strategy.

        1. Actually,from reports there was a trade agreement until China reneged and left the negotiating table. To which Trump upped the ante. China left first and walked back almost everything that had been agreed upon. You could argue this was part of a strategy for the long game, but it could also be argued Trump upping the ante is also calling their bluff. But I know orange man bad!

          1. Then we are reading different reports.

            Bluffing is a difficult risky move. It is more psychological than probability or game theory. Calling a bluff is even more risky which is why game players seldom use it. The advantage to the player is increasing your own level of unpredictability.

            By doubling tariffs Trump has layed out cards he held. The opponent now has the initiative. I think that Trump in his life has bluffed and called bluffs to the point where the opponent sees the level of unpredictability and factors that in. Disagree if you wish.

            We do not know the consequences yet.

            1. You’d be an absolutely abysmal poker player.
              You’re welcome to take the chance to prove me wrong though.

      3. Why wouldn’t it be awesome? It has worked well historically. Trade barriers are just violations of people’s right to contract freely.

        1. So you agree Chinese trade barriers hurt American workers while helping Chinese companies? And your solution then is to ignore this and make it easier for China to maintain these unfair trade restrictions by the US lowering ours even more, while getting nothing in return. It is definitely a position to take.

          1. We don’t get nothing in return. That’s a ridiculous claim. I’m not saying there aren’t downsides, but we benefit enormously from trade with China.
            My position is to let Americans freely trade. This is supposed to be a libertarian site. The libertarian position is to leave people alone and don’t interfere in peaceful transactions. Some people benefit from freer trade. Some people don’t.

            1. I agree let Americans freely trade. That means both import and export. When I said we get nothing in return I was referring to any reductions in tariffs on US goods or any lessening of trade restrictions on US goods or any perceivable decrease in theft of US intellectual properties. In other words, we agree to take cheap (artificially cheap because of subsidies and manipulated currency) products, lowering our domestic producers ability to compete while also limiting our producers ability to export to China. I am not in favor of protectionism but China is one of the most protectionist nation’s in the world and it does harm American manufacturing and other industries. This isn’t free trade,it is capitulated trade. And to even try and pretend that it is anything approaching free trade is dishonest. I want true free trade, where US goods have as much access to Chinese markets, and China agrees to abide by it’s trade agreements, stop stealing American intellectual properties and stops manipulating it’s currency.

              1. “stop stealing American intellectual properties”

                If companies are giving away their intellectual property in exchange for discounted labor, it’s not stealing. It’s the cost of doing business with China. It’s not “American” intellectual property. It’s fully owned by the people and companies that developed it. They are free to do with it as they like. The rest of your gibberish is incoherent, at best.

    2. Trade with China pre President Trump was not free trade.

      So the solution is to make it even less free?

      I see this as about the rights of Americans, not in terms of benefits to China.
      I don’t know what you do about China. I think the best thing might be just to let them keep developing economically which provides an incentive to behave themselves.

      1. So do American companies have a right to expect China to live up to previous trade agreements, honor American copyrights and patents? Or do we allow them to continue to ignore previous trade agreements, use protectionist tariffs and trade restrictions, engage in state sponsored corporate espionage and steal American intellectual property (which they then reproduce for cheaper and undersell Americans because of the vastly devalued currency)? Because, yes trade is good but it seems like we’ve been in a trade war with China for a long time only we were pacifists in it. I hear a lot of people talk about cheap goods at Walmart, and how it helps Americans but little about how unfair trade practices from both Europe and Asia hurt Americans. It is amazing how these countries, especially China, are squealing when the US uses tactics that they have been using against US goods for decades with little to no push back.

        1. On a related note, the retail industry is in a massive transition, lowering the multiplier effect of cheap retail goods.

        2. American companies are free to stop doing business in China if it is to their detriment.
          You acknowledge that many people benefit from trade with China. I can acknowledge that people also suffer because of it. But people also suffer if trade is further restricted. So how can you be so certain that your position isn’t going to hurt Americans more than it helps?

          1. Most of the espionage and steeling of trade secrets happens domestically, in country. Business’ can’t stop that theft by just agreeing not to sell in China. This is why we can’t argue honestly about free trade. There is a lack of knowledge of where the actual impediments to free trade are. I like how your solution is literally “let China be a bad actor only while the US acts in good faith.” Go look at any of the AI competition conferences… tit for tat is actually the winning strategy for the most part. You can’t act in an ethical manner when the competitor you are dealing with is lying and cheating their way to an advantage.

          2. Because, if allowed to compete on equal or nearly equal footing American manufacturing and agriculture are far more competitive than most anything in the world.

          3. “American companies are free to stop doing business in China if it is to their detriment”

            That doesn’t solve any of the problems though. It’s a fucking bromide, worth exactly nothing as a policy suggestion.

      2. I don’t understand this argument in light of world history.

        Do we not believe imperialism still exists?

  6. I remember the story of Boris Yeltsin in 1989 when he came to the US. They stopped at an ordinary grocery store in Texas.

    He could hardly believe what he saw. It shattered his view of communism.

    “Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,” he said. When he was told through his interpreter that there were thousands of items in the store for sale he didn’t believe it. He had even thought that the store was staged, a show for him. Little did he know there countless stores just like it all over the country, some with even more things than the Randall’s he visited”

    https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/bayarea/news/article/When-Boris-Yeltsin-went-grocery-shopping-in-Clear-5759129.php

  7. Trump is too dumb to engineer a proletarian revolution with any efficacy?

    1. That’s why we like him.

  8. I bet this tiny out of context quote is the only thing Root has read of Marx.

    1. Nah he’s pretty comprehensive when it comes to the works of Groucho, et al.

  9. Most economists disagree with that assessment. As they will tell you, free (or even just freer) trade benefits all parties involved.

    “Benefits” here means “makes one country in aggregate better off than another country”. And that assumes a totally free market.

    In the presence of a political system, welfare system, environmental regulations, externalities, etc., free trade is not necessarily mutually beneficial anymore.

    1. Countries aren’t parties to trade. Individuals and companies are. Trade is beneficial (or is perceived to be) to the parties involved in it. Otherwise they wouldn’t do it.

      1. I think I see what JW is saying. If you take environmental regulations and safety laws into consideration, you have a situation in which a manufacturer’s decision to manufacture in the US vs. China is not an apples-to-apples decision in a free market. It’s a decision between a heavily regulated environment that is going to be very expensive to do business in versus a market that largely lacks those regulations, that actively suppresses wages and workers’ ability to organize, and that subsidizes domestic manufacturing.

        In that sense, I think what JW is saying is that it’s not enough to simply get rid of tariffs when the tariffs are compensating for a business environment that strongly incentivizes overseas manufacture.

        It’s the same argument that we need to eliminate welfare before we can have open borders – i.e. we need to reduce barriers to producing things in this country before taking down barriers against imports.

        Not sure I totally agree, just like I’m not sure I totally agree on the open borders thing, but I think that’s the argument being made.

        1. It’s the same argument that we need to eliminate welfare before we can have open borders

          I’m not saying we “need to”. We can certainly open borders and drop all tariffs tomorrow if we like. And taken in isolation, you can make a libertarian “rights” argument for that.

          What I am pointing out is that people who claim that this is known to be “economically beneficial” due to comparative advantage are wrong. The comparative advantage argument only works in a largely free market and libertarian environment.

          In actual fact, given current levels of US government spending, it is utterly absurd to argue about saving Americans money through lower tariffs. Taxes on the American middle class need to be increased massively in order to eliminate deficits and pay down the debt, and some of those taxes might as well come from tariffs rather than income tax.

        2. Yeah, I see what he’s saying now. And it’s something you have to consider. I just think it’s another case where government can never have the knowledge to make the calls consistently well. The default should be freedom. The case against freedom isn’t compelling enough to me to sway me on that at all.

          1. I just think it’s another case where government can never have the knowledge to make the calls consistently well.

            That’s sorta my sticking point as well – it’s the traditional looking to government to solve a problem that government caused with its inability to manage things on that scale.

            It recalls the scariest nine words in the language:

            “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.”

          2. I just think it’s another case where government can never have the knowledge to make the calls consistently well.

            I’m not saying that government is any good at managing trade. What I’m saying is that government has taken away a lot of the freedoms that businesses traditionally have that lets them compete in international markets, and as a result, it also has to protect those businesses against international competition.

            By analogy, if the government imprisons me, I have a right to expect that the government supply me with food, even though as a libertarian I normally object to the government giving free stuff to anybody.

            1. Or if it takes away our guns, it damn well better be running into active gunmen to protect us?

      2. “Countries aren’t parties to trade”

        Are you an actual adult? Because this is childlike naivety right here.

  10. The point is, EVERY economist is on board for trade. Maybe not wholly free trade, but will at least acknowledge that trade between nations is a good thing. Even the fucking communist and figure this one out. The left and the right agree. The micro and the macro agree. The supply siders and the monetarists and the Austrians and the neoclassicists and Keynesians all agree. Trade is good. The only quibble is by how much.

    Only Mercantilism disagrees, but Mercantilism was tossed into the dustbin of history two centuries ago.

    p.s. Yeah, the Trumpistas can always find some economist to haul out to defend their protectionism, but so what? I can find one to say anything. But when it comes to actual peer reviewed public papers, econ textbooks, and stuff like that, EVERY economist of note agrees on the benefits of trade.

    p.p.s. Yes, there are still tradeoffs. There are tradeoffs for everything. Some people may lose as others may gain. But overall trade is good.

    1. p.p.s. Yes, there are still tradeoffs. There are tradeoffs for everything. Some people may lose as others may gain. But overall trade is good.

      The first and the last sentence cannot both be true. Either there are tradeoffs and you run the risk of overindulging or engaging in those tradeoffs or they are not, in fact, trade offs.

      This sort of thing is covered in the economic literature the only reason why you would claim that it’s not is because it’s not economics, you’re selectively blind, or it’s too trivial, or some combination of the above. Of note: Bastiat’s negative railroad explicitly runs *Paris* to “Spain”, breaks are only addressed regarding points within France’s borders performed by Frenchmen. It is without doubt that France maintaining the railroad on the Spanish side of the border would benefit the French and, thereby, benefit everyone.

      Case in point, sometimes you extol the virtues of Marxism because you really hate an orange man who’s political philosophies *haven’t* put 100 million bodies in the ground. Tradeoffs indeed.

      1. So my understanding.

        The negative train is an extension of broken windows. If you make breaks along the track what happens? The traveler will find another way to get there. In the short term the guy stuck along the way may buy food or lodging.

        The example reduces to the idea that in capitalism the consumer is the primary concern. Every successful enterprise from Roku to KFC knows this.

        That is why communism fails as you pointed out.

        1. I’m a huge fan of Bastiat, but he never really brings his ideas to the full logical conclusion. Tariffs are barriers, yes, but just like in the military they can be less advantageous or less damaging to one country or party over the other.

          Countries do not exist for markets, they exist for survival. This is the most important point most libertarians miss. China can cause more economic damage by their policies and their existence than unilateral free trade with them could overcome.

      2. One can observe that Marx got a few things right here and there without its being “extolling the virtues of Marxism”.

        1. Yeah – rejecting Marx wholesale is no more intellectually impressive than accepting him wholesale. Less so, even, since it takes nothing whatsoever to say “Marx was stoopid.”

          Which is why even though technically speaking I think Jordan Peterson won the Zizek-Peterson debate none of Zizek’s followers think so because Peterson’s version of Marx that he was refuting was such a comic-book-level take on it that it would in no way persuade any committed Marxist to think anything other than “Peterson has no idea what he’s talking about.”

          1. “Yeah – rejecting Marx wholesale is no more intellectually impressive than accepting him wholesale. ”

            I disagree. Nothing Marx said was novel in a way that wasn’t better said by someone else. It’s quite easy to reject Marx wholesale while accepting some his premises, when better presented by others.

            1. It’s quite easy to reject Marx wholesale while accepting some his premises

              Isn’t that sort of an oxymoron?

              When I say “rejecting Marx wholesale” I mean this attitude that says “well Marxists killed 100M people therefore Marx is stoopid” without actually understanding anything about Marx or Marxists.

              Nothing Thomas Jefferson said was novel in a way that wasn’t better said by someone else, either. “Thomas Jefferson had slaves therefore Jeffersonianism is stoopid” is about the same level of intellectual caliber.

          2. I’ve read the communist manifesto multiple times and it is fascinating how correct it can be in some instances and then how abysmally wrong it is in other instances.

            But that is how cons work, and Marxism is perhaps the greatest con ever perpetrated on mankind.

    2. Only Mercantilism disagrees, but Mercantilism was tossed into the dustbin of history two centuries ago.

      And it was only ‘tossed onto the dustbin’ as an explicit forefront of economic policy and against the backdrop of a host of nations that don’t generally give two shits about individual liberty. By similar metrics, capitalism was tossed on the dustbin of history shortly after or even during the Renaissance. Simultaneously birthed and then cannibalized into Corporatism by the East India Company.

      Go tell Venezuela or Sweden that they can just let socialism drain the national balance to zero and keep digging.

    3. The point is, EVERY economist is on board for trade.

      Not necessarily.

    4. Maybe not wholly free trade, but will at least acknowledge that trade between nations is a good thing.

      I don’t see anybody disagreeing with that, not even Trump.

      Why do you fabricate positions for other people?

    5. And another reason why there is not honest discussion on free trade. Trump supports free trade dummy. He literally asked for both sides to completely reduce their trade barriers, China and Europe have both refused.

      You confuse this with Trump refusing to dump all American trade barriers while allowing China to maintain theirs. We call this naivete.

  11. If you’re not onboard with private property, I’m not really interested in your views on the free exchange of private property.

  12. And cannibals agree that salt and pepper are useful condiments.

    So what?

  13. I’m confused. There are a bunch of supposed libertarians here arguing for trade restrictions and protectionism. Huh?

    1. No, there are several of us arguing that China has never allowed anything approximating free or even fair trade. They have used tariffs and trade restrictions for decades to hurt American farmers, manufacturing etc, while manipulating their currency to vastly undervalue it, and using state funds to sponsor corporate espionage, stealing American intellectual properties, ignoring trademarks, copyrights and patents. All of the while China routinely broke trade agreements already in place. So in other words, China was already fighting a trade war, the US was just ignoring it. In fact, quite often our leaders responded by giving the Chinese what the Chinese wanted, less US tariffs, trade barriers and little to no complaints about theft of US intellectual properties. And even when we did complain about the latter, we only complained and rarely loudly. I want free trade but I also think we cannot ignore decades of malfeasance on the part of the Chinese government.

      1. Neither has the US engaged in free trade.

        Not at all. So we have things such as farm subsidies, wage laws, tariffs, protectionist policies to do business here, strict immigration laws, legal barriers for technology, other things. Not saying all of that is a bad thing but look at it without emotion.

        Do you want a trade deal with China? I do. I have no say over that and little expertise. I count on our government to get that done. Thus far I am not impressed.

    2. Honesty is not your strong suit in these arguments Zeb.

      Asking for an acknowledgement of the current state of actual trade is not arguing for trade restrictions.

      You are arguing from a naive state where you refuse to ignore the trade barriers on the other side. One sided trade barrier reduction is not only naive, it is plainly stupid.

      If you want to have an honest conversation, let the rest of us know.

  14. How I Practice Sophistry by Damon Root

    Donald Trump is an avowed enemy of free trade. “We must protect our borde…

  15. […] On Free Trade, Even Karl Marx Is Smarter Than Donald Trump – Reason Trump On Free Trade, Even Karl Marx Is Smarter Than Donald Trump  Reason […]

  16. On animal rights, even Hitler (a vegetarian) was smarter than Trump.

    1. That sums this article up. Except that Hitler loved his dog, and didn’t want to eat animals to somehow further their suffering and bring about their demise

  17. When I was in London, I took a dump on Karl Marx’s grave.

    1. From each according to his ability…

    2. Isn’t he buried in Tchermany somevhere?

      1. Nope. Highgate cemetery.

  18. Cocktail party invites start to dry up?

  19. Marx liked free trade because he wanted it to destroy the Nation State.

    “[G]enerally speaking, the Protective system in these days is conservative, while the Free Trade system works destructively. It breaks up old nationalities and carries antagonism of proletariat and bourgeoisie to the uttermost point. In a word, the Free Trade system hastens the Social Revolution. In this revolutionary sense alone, gentlemen, I am in favor of Free Trade.” K. Marx

  20. Well that pretty much sums it up. In other words this article is kind of dishonest in portraying marx as a noble advocate of free trade.

    This article makes a mistake in equating tariffs with protectionism. I’m no tariff fan, but not every tariff is made for the purpose of protecting certain industries from over seas competition. Sometimes they can be used as leverage against foreign governments, and sometimes they are used to fight back against dishonest or, inhumane activity in other countries.

    1. Embargoes and sanctions are not the same thing as tariffs.

      1. He didn’t say they were, and his point still stands.

        1. Tariffs are not used to fight against inhumane activities and should never be used as political leverage. Tariffs are economic tools.

          Sanctions such as we have against N Korea, Iran and Russia are meant to achieve political leverage, not economic.

          The difference is important.

          1. What a lot of pretend-libertarians dont know is that tariffs ARE sanctions and therefore have the same effects as sanctions. If you don’t believe it, check out this article from Mises.
            https://mises.org/library/tariffs-are-sanctions

            I am not a supporter of either tariffs or sanctions in general, but to say that sanctions (including tariffs) on the world stage never have a place is a bit naive.

      2. Yes they are.

        They are both barriers. Understanding this lets one understand that unilateral free trade is insanely ignorant. Pacifism in the face of invasion.

  21. Communist manifesto plank 2 is a heavy progressive income tax. William Jennings Bryan’s People’s Party and the Greenback party and other looters rolled this out as a REPLACEMENT for the tariff. Ask yourself which is better: a tariff on huge importers or SWAT-backed looter thought police ganging up on individuals? Getting rid of the income tax is good exercise for subsequently getting rid of the tariff.

    1. Amen. I get so frustrated when libertarians forget the essentials (like eliminating all direct taxation) in order to combat something far less important (albeit, still important to some degree) like tariffs. You tell me what is more central to libertarianism: hunting down any and all barriers of trade between countries (who may be at incredible odds) or abolishing a tax levied by the government on the property of its own citizens.

      Seriously, under our current system, the whole issue of free trade (which I think is important) is kind of useless until we make freedom at home within our own country legal. I mean at least tariffs don’t punish people for making money. Unlike income tax, they are voluntary indirect taxes.

  22. Marx “was a champion of free trade”

    lolwut?

    Except for labor and food and housing and…

  23. Fortunately Trump is smarter than Damon Root.

  24. why do reason writers find the need to lie to their readers and proclaim trump is a proponent off tariffs in and of themselves and not as means to reduce unfair trade barriers place on american producers?

  25. Yeah, Karl Marx and free trade.
    How did that work out in the 20th century?

  26. Marx was right about everything except one glaring detail.

    The “glorious revolutions” dont bring about the utopia, it shows it down. Socialism can only exist if Capitalism supports it.

    Sure, maybe one day we’ll live in a Star Trek universe where AI and replicators can satisfy our every need and want, and we can all live our lives sitting under trees writing shitty poetry to each other, but until then, someone has to get up and make the donuts.

    1. Trekkie nerds would not agree.

      The rest is fine.

  27. I’ve read more of Bohm-Bawerk’s critique of Marx than Marx beyond his manifesto .
    But that headline is just stupid .

    The crushing of the laissez faire rules between sovereign states is why communism realized it had to take over the world to succeed .

  28. We feed China. If we charge more to feed China it just might spur them to learn how to grow soybeans more efficiently. Think of tariffs as tough love.

  29. Damon Root is an ignorant tool on the topic of trade, as most are at Reason. They can’t even define what they mean by “free trade.”

    For those capable of thinking, try reading some Adam Smith instead of freaking Karl Marx!!

    Adam Smith on Tariffs: an Interview

  30. “Any deal is a good deal”. That is the Reason position!

  31. I’m really surprised by the thoughtlessness and lack of research behind the article. In a simple one period trade game, free trade is optimal. But in a multi-period, repeated game where there are strategic considerations, not only is free trade not necessarily optimal but the solution space in which it is optimal may be quite small. The Founders understood this which is why even the few free traders moved away from that position. Tariffs and quotas may be the only way to establish strategic position in critical materials or technology of which a long-term oriented opponent may seek to deprive you. Similarly, tariffs may be the only way to punish an opponent breaking the current set of trade rules (in an attempt to gain a strategic advantage). The literature on this is deep. Here’s just one example. http://www.geraldpech.net/papers/TariffRetaliation.pdf

  32. I will say though that populists like Donald Trump and other pseudo-conservatives morons are far closer to Marxian ideas than they would ever admit. It’s like were all supposed to sigh in relief when Trump announces that America will “never be a socialist country.” Um, how long has it been that we have had a progressive income tax? Have the departments of labor and housing and urban developement and health and human services and agriculture and commerce and energy not been controlling private businesses and farms for the past several decades. But no, we don’t have to worry about the future because “America will never be socialist country.”

  33. the current trade system is about as far away from a free market system as you can get….there no longer is a price system regulating trade flows, just endless pumped out liquidity to feed endless purchase of consumer goods which of course the peasants are now addicted to…just a welfare program

  34. The Democrats favored a revenue-only tariff not to exceed 10% to finance the navy and part of the General Government. Republicans came up with the tariff of abominations that sparked the Nullification Crisis, then backed away. But high protective tariffs were again legislated BEFORE Lincoln was elected, so Abe got stuck with the Civil War Andrew Jackson had predicted were things to again come to such a pass. The congressman who wrote that law later fought against the passage of the income tax in 1894.

  35. Agree with the headline 100%.
    “It is to be pointed out, however, that protectionism, socialism, and communism are basically the same plant in three different stages of its growth.” — Frederic Bastiat

  36. I’m pretty sure the only Marx Trump has heard of is Harpo.

  37. If Marx is more Pro-Capitalism than Trump and other Modern Politicians, then you really know there is a HUGE problem in the world

  38. “Most economists disagree with that assessment. As they will tell you, free (or even just freer) trade benefits all parties involved.”

    The Globalist version of sparkly unicorn ponies for everybody.

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