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A Protectionist is Someone Who…

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… often attempts to win arguments by mischaracterizing the case for free trade. A case in point: many protectionists try to smear us free traders by calling us names such as “globalists” or “one worlders.”

While these particular terms are not, to my ears, inherently objectionable, these terms – and many of the other attempted smears used by protectionists – are inaccurate descriptors of those of us who support free trade.

The foundational economic case for free trade rests on the reality that when a government obstructs its citizens’ access to goods and services that these citizens wish to purchase with their own money, that government makes its citizens, as a group, poorer. And the fact that the goods and services in question happen to be offered for sale by foreigners does absolutely nothing to alter this reality.

The foundational ethical case for free trade is that a citizen’s attempt to purchase a good or service offered for sale by a foreigner is a perfectly ethical act, one no different than a citizen’s attempt to purchase a good or service offered for sale by a fellow citizen. And thus it is unethical for the state to obstruct its citizens’ attempts to purchase goods and services offered for sale by foreigners.

In summary, the foundational case for free trade focuses on the home country and on fellow citizens. The foundational economic and ethical case for free trade is not, contrary to how protectionists often portray it, focused on the global effects of free trade. The foundational economic and ethical case for free trade is not, contrary to how protectionists often portray it, one that features a tradeoff between the economic well-being of fellow citizens and those of foreigners.

It is true, of course, that the freer is trade in any country the more are the citizens of that country, as both consumers and producers, economically and culturally integrated with the citizens of other countries. And it is also true in practice that free traders both celebrate this integration as such, and recognize its economic and ethical benefits. But it is not true that the foundational case for free trade is first and foremost about any effects that free trade has on the global economy. It is not true that the case for free trade either requires that there be a one-world government or predicts that a one-world government will emerge from a policy of free trade.

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I freely and proudly admit that I, an American, make no economic or ethical distinctions between Americans and non-Americans. I believe that Americans are no more or less ethically worthy than are non-Americans. I celebrate the economic successes of non-Americans no less or no more than I celebrate the economic successes of Americans. And I bemoan the economic hardships suffered by non-Americans no less or no more than I bemoan such hardships suffered by Americans. But even if I were otherwise – even if I cared not a whit for the well-being of non-Americans – even if I cared about the economic and political well-being only of myself and my fellow Americans – I would still be a free trader. Were I such a nationalist I would still be a free trader both because I understand that a policy of free trade ensures greater economic well-being for my fellow Americans, and because I understand that protectionism is an unjust infringement of the freedoms of my fellow Americans.

Protectionists cannot win intellectual and economic arguments against knowledgeable free traders. Their case is so weak – indeed, so utterly screwy – that any ‘victories’ that they secure can be secured only against straw men. One such straw man is that the caee for free trade involves the sacrifice of fellow-citizens’ economic well-being in order to improve the economic well-being of foreigners. Please, do not think for a moment that this straw man is real.

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