Oh, what a tangled web they weave when once they turn to the government to do—well, pretty much anything.
Of course, competition is uncomfortable for people who find it difficult to change. So is progress. But if one wants one’s country to be great again, fencing trade off with hurdles border taxes is not the best way. An old libertarian friend of mine, who used to be a member of Margaret Thatcher’s government, repined when I called for Britain fully to open its shores to trade unilaterally. I reminded him of Milton Friedman’s call in Capitalism and Freedom for the United States to reduce their tariffs across the board by 10% every year, whatever other nations did. First, Friedman said, consumers would gain immensely from cheap imports. Second, foreign competition would force American producers to improve their goods in quality and price. In any case, in the modern world it has become almost impossible to know which part of imported goods had earlier been made in the US and which abroad. My friend was not convinced, when I recalled British unilateral dismantling of trade protection from 1820 to 1840, principally to make bread and sugar cheaper for the working classes. So I used another example: in World War I and World War II the German Navy tried its best to stop the British importing goods from abroad; this no doubt gave a boost to home agriculture but it made life miserable to the beleaguered Brits. It is a grave failure of us economists not to be able to convince the public of the advantages of globalisation, especially for the deprived of the world. Even more uphill it is to convince the locals to welcome immigrants for their contribution to economic prosperity. People say they care for equality, but all, Americans and Europeans alike, dislike foreign competition and resist the call of the Statue of Liberty’s to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore”.