Mr. Trump often complains that, when it comes to trade, China is “killing us” and that the European Union was created in part “to beat the United States on trade.” Given that trade is voluntary — neither the Chinese nor Europeans force Americans to buy their products — how are we Americans being “killed” or “beaten” when we freely choose to buy foreign-made goods and services?
Why should manufacturing jobs lost to foreign competition be privileged by protectionist policies in ways that jobs lost to domestic competition are not? When an Applebee’s or Olive Garden, powered by a national advertising budget, opens next to, and causes the closing of, Madge’s Diner, why does Madge not merit protection? Or the Trade Adjustment Assistance that is available for workers, firms, farmers, even communities that can plausibly claim to have been otherwise injured by foreign competition or outsourcing of jobs?
The reason is this: Domestic protection of Madge and millions of others unsettled by the constant churning of a dynamic domestic economy would mean slow economic growth — and rapid growth of government as it regulates consumers’ choices and their consequences. But protection from imports also means this.
(One small correction to this otherwise excellent column: elsewhere in it Will says that protectionism “means a net decrease in jobs.” It doesn’t; instead, protectionism ensures that the jobs that do exist are generally worse than the jobs that would exist with free trade. In a world of scarcity, there are always opportunities for jobs – and protectionism certainly increases scarcity!)