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Free Minds & Free Markets

Free Trade Under Fire in the Age of Trump

The Trump administration's incomprehension of the benefits, and hostility to the practice, of free trade represents one of the most important current threats to the ideas of liberty, I argue in a new essay up at the Cato Institute's website, "Free Trade is Under Attack, and It Must be Defended."

Gage Skidmore/Foter,comGage Skidmore/Foter,com

The core of the argument:

The economic and moral case for free trade of goods, capital, and labor across borders is so strong, and so core to the libertarian vision, that any politician, party, or group that professes to further the cause of liberty and does not understand and advocate it cannot be relied on as an intelligent ally.

In year one of the Trump administration, then, the greatest challenge facing political liberty is rewinning support, either popular, or elite, or preferably both, for this core free market principle. Free trade very recently was central to the free-market image of Trump's party, the Republicans, but they mostly seem to have shed it in service of propping up their president's agenda, or in search of tax solutions, like a border adjustment tax, that they can sell as harming only "them" and not us.

From the moment he declared his candidacy, Trump's highest priority seemed to be forceful interference with the free movement of goods, services, and people across the American border. His reasons were based in either unreasonable fearmongering over a very small risk (when it comes to immigrants), or a misunderstanding, or a pure rejection, of the principle that people should be able to trade their property and labor as they wish with minimal interference from the state.

Trump didn't even wait until he was sworn in to begin threatening businesses who dare use their capital outside the American border. Chiefly he sought punitive taxes and sought to use the government's power of special favors to cajole companies into not doing so. In his inaugural address he cut to the point with a clarity that was brutal and frightening to those who understand free trade as the cornerstone of liberty and worldwide wealth: "We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs," Trump said. "Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength."

The Cato Institute (a libertarian public policy analysis think tank) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and that essay is part of a series they commissioned and are publishing on the "Future of the Free Society."

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  • timbo||

    Free markets under fire in Washington DC.

    Anyone who thinks politicians represent anything different is a stupid stupid person.

    Anyone who thought trump presents free market capitalism should consult the previous sentence.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Trade is likely one of the big non-Hillary reasons Trump got elected.

  • timbo||

    Are we tired of winning yet?

  • Inigo Montoya||

    At least Trump made no attempt to hide his disdain for free trade. None of the recent major presidential candidates had any use for free trade. And capitalism? Pffft. You had Bernie on the one hand wanting to get rid of it, and Trump and Hillary endorsing, at best, cronyism.

    So sure it's under fire in Washington. At this rate, free trade will soon be about as popular and well-liked as so-called sex-trafficking.

  • ||

    In general, people instinctively support raw protectionism for whatever collective they might belong to. Usually only the individual rights oriented or economically educated escape that.

    So when a demagogue shows up and tells people that raw protectionism will make them better off, people are inclined to believe it.

    Fortunately, as Trump becomes more and more disliked, the policies he most advocates become disliked as well. So there is hope.

  • timbo||

    People always vote with their wallet no matter what they say.
    The problem of course is that the majority of americans and small business owners never have a candidate that really represent their best interest or even a good portion of their interests.

    That and the fact that americans really think politicians are capable of fixing what the government got us into.
    Its like asking a broke stoner painter to come back after you have paid him.

  • MSimon||

    Follow the money.

  • MSimon||

    Follow the money.

    It works like the mob.

    No money. No "benefits".

  • DJF||

    Does "Free Trade" include trade with the largest business in the world, the Chinese Communist Party?

    https://tinyurl.com/zfrzxys

    List of government owned companies of China

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Yes, it does, unless you're unclear about what the "free" part of the phrase means.

  • DJF||

    When did a communist dictatorship become free?

  • ||

    It doesn't need to be free for the trade to be free.

    But you already knew that.

  • DJF||

    So is your definition of free trade that its free if there is no government imposed restrictions such as tariffs or quotas involved?

    So if the Chinese secret police sell the body parts of executed political prisoners to the Cuban medical system but impose no tariffs or quotas then its free trade?

  • Sevo||

    "So if the Chinese secret police sell the body parts of executed political prisoners to the Cuban medical system but impose no tariffs or quotas then its free trade?"

    Yes, it is.
    How long are you going to keep it up?

  • DJF||

    So you are a free trader, not a libertarian?

  • Sevo||

    DJF|4.20.17 @ 4:16PM|#
    "So you are a free trader, not a libertarian?"

    When did you stop beating your wife? Libertarian free traders want to know.

  • ||

    So is your definition of free trade that its free if there is no government imposed restrictions such as tariffs or quotas involved?

    Trade is free to the extent that there are no forcefully imposed limitations or inducements on the trade.

    The US government can maximize the freedom of trade by ending all limitations and inducements it is responsible for. That would be free trade to the extent the US government could secure it.

    So if the Chinese secret police sell the body parts of executed political prisoners to the Cuban medical system but impose no tariffs or quotas then its free trade?

    How a good or service is produced before it comes to the trading floor is completely orthogonal to free trade. If you believe governments should restrict trade in goods produced by slaves or stolen from their rightful owners, then argue that. Don't argue that those forms of production are, qua themselves, not free trade.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    What does the political makeup of the other trading partner have to do with whether or not i'm allowed to deal with them? Assuming i want to, that is.

  • DJF||

    Look at the link I posted, its a huge list of major Chinese business is directly owned and controlled by the Chinese communist government

    So its more then just the political makeup, its the fact that the largest single "business" in the world is the Chinese Communist Party

  • Sevo||

    DJF|4.20.17 @ 4:14PM|#
    "Look at the link I posted, its a huge list of major Chinese business is directly owned and controlled by the Chinese communist government."

    DJF: "I support free trade, but..."
    IOWs, you do not support free trade.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Still not relevant.

  • DJF||

    So you would invest in slavery if you got a good return?

  • Sevo||

    DJF|4.20.17 @ 4:21PM|#
    "So you would invest in slavery if you got a good return?"

    No.
    When did you stop beating your wife?

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I'm talking about definitions, not about what i personally would do. Leave the disingenuousness to Tony, he's had more practice at it.

  • ||

    I am sorry but you are conflating purchase with investment.

    Buying a 'Big Mac' does not mean I am investing in McDonald the enterprise. I am merely trading cash for satisfaction.

    Whilst I like a 'Royale' it does not mean I like 'Ronald'.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    I mean, your argument seems to be that nobody in the world can freely dispose of the fruits of their labor until EVERYBODY in the world can, which is some commie utopian bullshit in itself.

  • DJF||

    I haven't stop you from disposing of anything, I have just brought up the fact that the largest disposer of the fruits of other peoples labor is the Chinese Communist government. And to call that "free trade" is to have a very narrow definition which includes trade in body parts of executed political prisoners or even slavery.

  • Sevo||

    "...And to call that "free trade" is to have a very narrow definition which includes trade in body parts of executed political prisoners or even slavery."

    To call WHAT free trade?
    You have no idea what is under discussion here. I suggest you find the kiddy table in the cafeteria; you're missed there.

  • ||

    Absolutely!

    If I may paraphrase, in a free trade world I will decide who I trade with - not the government. If I am offended by the 'image' of a potential trader, for whatever reason', I will make the decision to trade. Government dictats or fiscal manipulation should not be a factor.

    For example, I like Iranian Caviar (with Russian Vodka - ice cold cold of course); does the fact the the government or 'DJF' does not 'like' Iran, Russia, or Vodka influence my decision for free trade?

  • Sevo||

    DJF|4.20.17 @ 4:00PM|#
    "When did a communist dictatorship become free?"

    Where did you get your degree in sophistry?

  • DJF||

    Its not sophistry, its reality, the Communist government of China is the biggest single business in the world .

  • Sevo||

    DJF|4.20.17 @ 4:18PM|#
    "Its not sophistry, its reality, the Communist government of China is the biggest single business in the world ."

    Sophistry AND irrelevancy!
    OK, where did you get the degree in "Stupid"?

  • Sevo||

    "Does "Free Trade" include trade with the largest business in the world, the Chinese Communist Party?"

    Free trade only needs scare quotes if you limit it to your faves.

  • DJF||

    So the largest communist party in the world w is not worth a scare quote?

  • Sevo||

    DJF|4.20.17 @ 4:15PM|#
    "So the largest communist party in the world w is not worth a scare quote?"

    Care to remove the lie, or just admit you're too stupid to understand?
    I'm guessing the later by now.

  • DJF||

    What lie is that, that Chinese communist party is the largest business in the world?

  • Sevo||

    DJF|4.20.17 @ 4:23PM|#
    "What lie is that, Chinese communist party is the largest business in the world?"

    "Does "Free Trade" include trade with the largest business in the world, the Chinese Communist Party?"
    See the scare quotes there you imbecile? THAT lie, asshole.
    Fuck, you are STUPID!

  • Azathoth!!||

    Trump appears to be supportive of free trade--and highly skeptical of the fiction that goes by the name 'Free Trade'.

    There is a difference between free trade and the managed economics of Free Trade agreements. Pity no one here can see that anymore.

  • Jerry on the sea||

    So it's a good thing he's closing the Export-Import Bank then? Oh, wait...

  • timbo||

    I would love to get the real numbers on how much ex-Im guarantees went to pay for windmills from GE.

  • timbo||

    Everyone here can see that. The only free trade agreement that should ever be signed should be about two sentences long.

    "Buy and sell your shit with whomever you want to wherever you want to at whatever price you agree to. "

  • ||

    The politically practicable alternative to free trade agreements is not unilateral free trade.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Of course, that's an argument against politically practicable alternatives, not against free trade.

  • Ken Shultz||

    There was a time when some labor unions in this country advocated for free trade. Take George Meany, unifier and head of the AFL-CIO for umpty ump years. Meany saw the iron curtain as an effective lock out of American goods made by American labor--a trade barrier that hurt American workers.

    "[Meany] detested radicals, intellectual phonies, hippies and communists. No matter how acerbic his comments might have been on the business community and its profits, he was devoted to the capitalistic system and free enterprise . . . . During his entire career, Meany never went to jail for union activity, never walked a picket line, never led a strike.

    . . .

    Meany's anticommunism [was] considered obsessive by his critics on the left . . . . Meany had his own explanation. He had noted, he said, that free trade unionism was the first victim of every totalitarian regime whether Communist or Fascist, and that once it was destroyed other freedoms tumbled like tenpins"

    ----Washington Post

    http://tinyurl.com/mvcpcbe

  • Sevo||

    Suffice to say, Meany had other opinions:

    "In the midst of the Great Society reforms advocated by President Johnson, Meany and the AFL-CIO in 1965 endorsed a resolution calling for "mandatory congressional price hearings for corporations, a technological clearinghouse, and a national planning agency."
    "The UAW and the Heyday of American Liberalism, 1945-1968"
    By Kevin Boyle

  • timbo||

    Also, it is optimistic to think unions were ever really about protecting the exploited worker.

    They were from the beginning and always have been an extortion racket where they are allowed to practice extortion under protection from the law(collective bargaining) whereas the employer and/or other companies in the same industry cannot get together and discuss best ways to solve the labor issues(that is called collusion).

    They are the exact same thing only the employer is robbed of the right to negotiate employment under an agreement with just the individual who chooses to work there.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Is that the story about how Meany kicked the Teamsters out and kept out the UAW?

    What is this trying to show, anyway? That Meany wasn't a libertarian?

    The point is that the leaders of Trump's current support demographic sold free trade to their constituencies way back when--even the rust belt was a new phenomenon.

    There is no reason why someone can't sell free trade to the same demographic now. There certainly isn't anything about being white, blue collar, middle class, etc. that makes anyone inherently hostile to free trade. Elitism, however, generally makes those people hostile to whatever the elitists are selling--and it's been that way with that demographic since forever.

    If we want to sell free trade to those people again, we need to jettison the elitism. And, yeah, to whatever extent the anti-globalist argument is effective, it's effective in no small part because globalists are seen as elitist.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Meany represented the same demographic as Trump supporters. My, how things have changed with that bunch in regard to trade! Why the change? What's different?

    I'd start with the fact that Meany, Reagan, Bush Sr., and others sold trade in terms of its benefits to average working people. Once trade becomes seen as a means for elitists to undermine the standard of living of average working people, is anyone surprised to see the same demographic change their minds?

    The worst thing you can be called in front of swing voters in middle America right now is probably "globalist".

    When average people become persuaded, again, that free trade is in their best interests, the country will turn pro-free trade again. But it's going to be really hard to convince them of that so long as the position is associated with elitists and their hatred of the white, blue collar, middle class for being white, blue collar, middle class, heterosexual, Christian, and patriotic, too.

    The sooner we break the association of trade with elitism, the better.

  • timbo||

    "When average people become persuaded, again, that free trade is in their best interests, the country will turn pro-free trade again."

    Way too much faith in the American voter. Every politician every 4 years uses the exact same moronic calls for protectionism and job creation. people on the right love made in the USA if a republican says it. People on the left love it because of the union aspect and their utter stupidity on all things economic.

    In terms of economic literacy around free markets, the ship has sailed and almost all americans have been raised in a school system that has been back-dooring Marxist doctrine for a long time. They do it in the form of government benevolence, protectionism(unions), environmental stewardship, and my favorite terms being brainwashed into them - Service and community. i.e - anything but individualism and entrepreneurship.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Way too much faith in the American voter."

    Americans' support for free trade in the past came because the anti-free trade arguments in the past didn't get any traction.

    We used to have votes over MFN status for China over and over and over and over . . .

    If the question is how and why the anti-free trade argument is ascendant right now, the answer is that it's because that argument resonates with swing voters. It's a fair part of why Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. You aren't going to turn that trend around without getting those swing voters back on board with free trade. Support for free trade is about making free trade arguments resonate with swing voters--that's what it is.

    Broadcasting contempt for average Americans sure as hell isn't going to break the association in swing voters' minds between free trade and elitism. And there are lots of excellent arguments to make for free trade, especially, for the working class. Free trade increases the standard of living of working class people--that isn't reaching or exaggerating either. Everyone who doesn't want more free trade if getting it means addressing the concerns of average working class Americans should STFU. They're hurting the cause.

  • ||

    Is anyone else, beside me, getting pissed off by the 'radio-ads' suddenly launching whilst one is reading necessitating muting?

    WTF

  • ||

    ..... and yes "The Mute" was my nickname in the rehab center!!

  • MWG||

    Yes.

  • ||

    SQRLZ?

    Is anyone, beside myself, getting pissed off by the 'sound only' adverts that launch whilst one is reading - necessitating 'The Mute".

  • ||

    ... see the above SQRL shit :-)

  • MWG||

    God, there are people at the commentariat who will find a way to defend The Red Hugo Chavez no matter what they're defending.

    Trump could flat out come out in support of European-style socialism and certain people here would find a way to defend it from a "libertarian" standpoint.

  • Peter Duncan||

    Trump's understanding of Free Trade is limited only to personal sexual favors. The rest of us can just go fuck ourselves in his veiw.

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