Free Trade

Trump Is Terrible on Trade. Top 2020 Dems Are No Better.

Democrats are happy to criticize the president's trade war—but many are tacitly endorsing the same protectionist views.


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By erecting tariffs and threatening to tear up trade agreements, President Donald Trump has done more to achieve one of the left's longstanding policy goals than any other modern president.

For the Democrats running for office in 2020, this creates a conundrum: They can't say they like what Trump is doing, but they're also not really willing to criticize his trade war. In fact, many of the 2020 Democratic candidates are espousing protectionist views that sound a lot like what Trump was saying in 2016.

The Democrats are essentially arguing that all we need is a more competent protectionist in the White House. But there's no way to "correctly" implement policies that stop individuals from peacefully exchanging goods and services, just because they live in different countries. Whether imposed by Trump or by Bernie Sanders, these ideas are a catastrophe for all Americans.

Written by Eric Boehm. Produced and edited by Mark McDaniel.

Allison Dinner/ZUMA Press/Newscom
Kevin Dietsch/CNP/AdMedia/SIPA/Newscom
Paul Kitagaki Jr./ZUMA Press/Newscom

NEXT: Corporations and the First Amendment: Free Speech Rules (Episode 6)

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  1. The Democrats are essentially arguing that all we need is a more competent protectionist in the White House.

    Isn’t this the only argument that central planners ever use? Can’t we at least skip the 8 hour virtue-a-thons and go straight to “it will work because me?”

    1. That’s half their argument. The other half – trademarked by Krugman – is that the failure is not doing twice as much.

    2. The difference is that democrats want more tariffs as a permanent part of their intrinsic trade policy. Trump is only using it as leverage to peel back existing tariffs that are unreasonable to US businesses.

      Those are different things.

      1. BINGO!!!!!! Nobody can judge Trump’s actions until a deal is struck & a deal will be struck at some point!

  2. Same-Same…but Different.

    Democrats are nothing like Republicans, Libertarians, or Trump.

    Democrats don’t want more than 1 type of deodorant. Democrats want to ban straws. Democrats want to end Capitalism.

    Boehm, you’re not fooling anyone that Democrats are anything but horrible.

    1. The big difference for people like Boehm appears to be that Trump is a big meanie when he tweets. So we need to elect a communist instead.

      1. I agree shitlord that’s EXACTLY what he said. By ridiculing Dems as being JUST AS BAD AS TRUMP on trade what he’s REALLY saying is that the Dems should replace Trump. “Just as bad on trade as Trump” is just secret leftie commie code for TOTAL ENDORSEMENT OF LEFTIE COMMIES!!!

  3. The difference is that Trump’s trade measures are temporary and tactical. Trump wants to negotiate a deal and is using tariffs as leverage. After a deal is reached, policies will be somewhat better (from the Reason perspective).

    Dems are just totalitarians. They covet power and recognize no limits or morals or values beyond more power and more control.

    1. Dems are totalitarians.

      Republicans are half-educated, backwaters-dwelling, authoritarian bigots.

      Where is the hope for America, Ben?

      1. Boring. I can’t believe you still post your nonsense.

    2. I agree, Ben. Trump is a genius playing 11 dimensional chess. We mere mortals could not possibly hope to understand his eternal wisdom. Also Republicans are perfect and free of sin unlike evil commie Democrats. They are the party of liberty 100%. that’s exactly what you just said and I endorse every word.

  4. What an odd endorsement of trump.

  5. Trump Is Terrible on Trade. Top 2020 Dems Are drastically worse.


    1. I don’t think you really care about the Democrats’ positions on trade.

      You’re focused on the bigotry.

  6. “Trump Is Terrible on Trade. Top 2020 Dems Are No Better.”

    I don’t see it that way.

    Trump is terrible on trade, that much is certain, but the Democrats are far worse–because their concern isn’t so much forced technology transfers and the like. The Democrats oppose our trade with China, not because China is abusing our trade relationship to their advantage like Trump does. The Democrats oppose our trade relationship with China because they oppose capitalism and trade–and as bad as Trump is on trade, that makes the Democrats significantly worse.

    1. I while the article talks about free trade, what we have now with China is not “free trade”. Trade is becoming less about advantageous exchange and more about currency manipulation for long term national industrial strategic advantage. This “free trade” is responsible for eviscerating of our industries and labor force, and is contributing to debt-fueled over-consumption. Inconvenient to free traders is America grew MORE industrious when tariffs and quotas were used heavily in the 1800s. It’s the NAIVE who thinks free and unmanaged trade will be an economic boon for most of America, it’s only brought deindustrialization of ever more industries.

      FYI when our container ships arrive full from China and leave empty , that’s not trade, it’s a bad deal. Libertarians should study history if they think bad deals last.

      1. Yeah, they get green pieces of paper because we have so much of it and all we get is “stuff”.

      2. No, those dollars come back via US Treasuries which prop up the value of the dollar thus increasing purchasing power for the average American citizen.

        That green isn’t doing anyone any good in its paper form, it gets traded for useful products voluntarily by private citizens.

        1. You amplify my point exactly. In normal free trade if my products are not bought then my currency falls to the point where trade equalizes more – this cannot happen because of government currency manipulation.

          For all here that hate govt control seem not to care when trading with one that does.

          1. Think about it Tonto. If “my products” are not bought then what will have happened is, as Echospinner so correctly puts it, we will have traded green pieces of paper for “real stuff”. That is certainly advantageous trade, but for us, not China!

            It’s amazing how easily people forget the simple fact that wealth consists of an abundance of real things, and that money is intrinsically worthless. When we export, things of real value leave our shores; when we import they arrive. It should be obvious (but alas isn’t to most) that our advantage lies in exporting as little as we can in order to import as much as we can. Would you rather have trucks carting valuable stuff to your house and leaving empty? Or empty trucks coming to your house and leaving full?

      3. “I while the article talks about free trade, what we have now with China is not “free trade”. “

        The distinction between trade and “free trade” is a red herring.

        There are policies that are more towards free trade and less towards free trade, and if you think I’m ever going to be in favor of protectionism and an economy run by politicians because what we have now isn’t perfectly free trade or perfectly capitalist, then you’re just playing word games.

        Market forces are people making choices, and the less they’re constrained by bullshit like the rent seeking behavior of losers who can’t compete in their presence, the better off our economy will be–in terms of our standard of living its sustainability. In fact, the creative destruction market forces perpetrate on the losers is precisely the means by which our economy thrives.

        1. The US has a pretty low tariff economy while China has higher tariffs and high tariffs on many items that have higher labor content which did result in jobs transferred to China. I sell you my products while I don’t buy yours but instead buy your assets is NOT TRADE but a mechanism to deindustrialize your country and transfer ownership to foreign entities.

          If you think one country having high tariffs than the other has lower ones is free Trade then you are confused about what free trade is. Again study history to see how long bad deals last.

          1. Yup. The libertarian counterargument for “free trade” when confronted with Chinese-style protectionism is “Let them impose tariffs, we’ll just get more of their stuff paid for by their taxpayers.” Which would be nice if China cared about taking the loss, which they don’t. Their goal is to drive key industries under in the U.S., steel being a prime example.

            Libertarians might say “That’s okay, we’ll just get our steel cheaper from China then”, which sounds great if you ignore that steel is a critical defense component in pretty much every core military weapon and technology we build…and China is a rising and increasingly antagonistic military threat to us.

            If we lose our capacity to produce steel and then get into a war with China when China decides to attack Taiwan or Japan, do you think they’ll keep selling us steel?

  7. Another day, another tDS (trade Derangement Syndrome 🙂 ) article from Mr. Boehm. In the 2+ decades post-NAFTA, what POTUS did anything to address it’s deficiencies? In the 3+ decades of an abusive trade relationship with China, what POTUS did anything to address serial lying, cheating and theft of IP by China?

    POTUS Trump may indeed be terrible on trade. But holy moly, WTF does that say about his predecessors?!

    1. I agree, Atlas. It doesn’t matter WHAT Trump is doing, just that he’s doing SOMETHING. It could be good or bad but it’s SOMETHING!!!

  8. Does that mean that they’re Hitler too?

  9. Here’s the difference IMO.
    Every President since WW2 without exception has viewed trade negotiations from a position that asks the question, ‘how much can the American taxpayer afford to give up?’ Trump is the FIRST President to say ‘how much can I get FOR the American taxpayer?’ Has ANY president complained (or taken action) about forced technology turn over? No.
    Let’s not pretend we have ‘free trade’ with any of our partners… we don’t; but if Trump wins we may be a little closer to balancing those scales.

    1. Its not “forced” if those American companies voluntarily choose to do business in China.
      No one coerced them to locate there, obviously it makes good business sense for Apple etc to trade and manufacture in China, these companies do not need their hands held by Trump, they are perfectly capable of making sound financial decisions without him breathing down their necks.

      1. It is ironic that what is happening is the opposite of what the companies doing business there wanted – more trade and opening markets in China.

        Forced technology transfer from my limited understanding is not the evil beast it sounds. Basically if I have a company making robotic assembly tools. I want to open a plant in China and more access to sell those.

        I can’t directly do that. I have to enter into a joint partnership with a Chinese firm. Through the partnership my patented invention to make this unique robotic arm can be disseminated to local potential competitors. The American companies can certainly not agree to those terms and not go there but would like a better deal so they can.

        Looking into it the whole matter is very complicated which is why there are people making the big bucks to deal with it. I see it as a conflict between what the US sees as property, intellectual or otherwise, and what China does. I think it is best dealt with through negotiation to include those industrial leaders to work out solutions.

        What is happening now is ham fisted and not helping anyone.

        Small government

        Always focus on the individual.

        1. You’re absolutely right, I totally agree.
          Levelheaded negotiations are essential. Tariffs seem to appeal to the emotions of the electorate, unfortunately too many of them gravitate towards an us vs them attitude on trade fanned on by politicians like Trump as opposed to analyzing the benefits of trade with factual data.

  10. Yes he is and yes they are.
    Regarding most everything else, he’s far better than the alternatives and we do not have the option of ‘wonderful’; you get to play the hand you were dealt.
    He’s a loose cannon, a blowhard, an idiot regarding trade and immigration, and he’s STILL far better than any of the others on offer.
    Believe me, I wish there were a better alternative.

  11. It is far past time to stand up to the Chinese in trade and theft of intellectual property. No previous admin, R of D has had the balls to do so… MAGA

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  15. Hello trump Sir. i hope u again become the president of America.

    1. Trump the first president with the balls to stand up to the Chinese.

  16. The left and right are equally bad on economics? Are you high?

    Reliably, the alleged libertarian snuggles up and French kisses the leftist.

    It never fails.

    1. No, they didn’t say that. They didn’t even say they’re equally bad on trade. They said the Dems AND TRUMP are equally bad on trade. Learn to read, moron.

  17. “The Democrats are essentially arguing that all we need is a more competent protectionist in the White House.”

    If we are only given this choice I would go with the more competent protectionist. At very least, I want someone who realizes that trade wars are not easy to win and will put some effort into determining a policy.

    1. Given this choice I am going with just making a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches and continue watching old Clint Eastwood movies on Netflix.

      Tip: smear some mayo on the grill side of the bread. It doesn’t burn as fast as the butter and makes it crispier.

  18. Yeah, but everyone thought Obama would be terrible for the free market and for trade, whereas he turned out to be at least as good as the past four presidents that preceded him. That’s because he didn’t consider his own opinion to be sacrosanct, and didn’t purge everyone who disagreed with him.

    If Democrats select Bernie, yeah, that could well be a disaster, but the other front-runners are well-likely to be typical modern moderates that don’t take their own rhetoric to be divinely inspired. The real question is figuring out which of them roll back our orange emperor’s trade taxes the soonest. The worst case scenario is Democrats saying after the fact that Trump may have been partially correct.

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