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Greg Mankiw on Free Trade

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Greg Mankiw’s recent New York Times column offers an excellent summary of some recent research on international trade [2].  And I love his conclusion:

That is the theory and evidence regarding international trade [which shows that trade quite unambiguously yields net benefits to the denizens of the free(r) trading countries]. I don’t expect this academic work to persuade Mr. Trump. But he is said [3] to pay more attention to briefings that contain his own name [4]. So let’s return to Adam Smith’s birthplace and ponder these questions:

Should we impose a tariff on Americans vacationing at Scotland’s Trump International Golf Links [5]? Or should vacationers make their consumption choices free from the heavy hand of government?

Alas, I predict that Mankiw’s argument will persuade no protectionists.

My prediction is no criticism of Mankiw’s argument, for no argument for free(r) trade will persuade protectionists.  Protectionists – with exceptions too rare to mention – are an unpersuadable lot.  They are blind to the full effects of trade.  Just as you cannot make a blind man ‘see’ the color yellow and ‘see’ how the color yellow differs from the colors green and red, you cannot make a protectionist see the jobs created in the domestic economy by trade – you cannot make a protectionist see that the consumer benefits created in the domestic economy by trade overwhelm whatever short-term ‘losses’ trade (that is, economic competition) inflicts – you cannot make a protectionist ‘see’ that a rising domestic trade ‘deficit’ is generally both evidence of a healthy domestic economy and a source of further domestic economic growth – you cannot make a protectionist see that a government that stands ready to dole out protectionist favors will inevitably be corrupt and captured by special-interest groups – you cannot make a protectionist see that trade across political borders is a manifestation of healthy economic competition that differs in absolutely no meaningful ways from any other manifestation of healthy economic competition.

In short, you cannot make a protectionist see.  Protectionists are incurably blind to all but the indistinct outlines of a few large, well-lit figures that dance immediately before their noses [6].

The goal of free traders ought not be to ‘convert’ protectionists.  Such conversions are impossible – or too improbable to be concerned with.  The goal, instead, is to persuade those who haven’t yet formed settled opinions on the matter – especially young people – that all peaceful trade deserves a strong presumption of legitimacy, and that this presumption is not weakened one iota for trades that happen to traverse political borders.