≡ Menu

Yet One More Reason to Question the National-Defense Exception to the Case for a Policy of Free Trade

Although the overwhelming motivation for protectionist policies is cronyism – that is, the desire to protect select, existing domestic firms and jobs from foreign competition – a great many calls for protection are also wrapped, for good political measure, in the flag. “This industry is vital for the national defense!” insist those who squawk for tariffs or other obstructions of the freedom of fellow citizens to spend their money as they choose.

For a variety of reasons (that I’ll not here lay out), the so-called “national-defense exception” to the case for a policy of free trade is a bit more challenging to refute than is each of the many economic cases against a policy of free trade. (Note that “a bit more challenging” means just that: a bit more challenging – and only a bit; in the end the “national-defense exception” is exposed as being quite weak.)

Here I draw your attention to this interesting and important study by Trevor Thrall and Caroline Dorminey on arm sales orchestrated by the United States government. Read this study. Thrall and Dorminey argue – in my opinion, convincingly – that Uncle Sam has been appallingly reckless in selling high-tech weaponry to different governments. That is, the U.S. government – apparently quite intent on drumming up business and (hence) profits for American makers of war machines and tools for killing – didn’t much care if militarily significant technologies were gotten by governments that, more plausibly than most other governments, are likely to use those technologies to target Americans and America’s allies.

Given the reality documented by Thrall and Dorminey, what reason is there to take seriously any of the many claims by high officials of the U.S. government that they require, for reasons of enhancing America’s national security, the power to restrict Americans’ freedom to trade? Are we to believe that the same institution that so recklessly hawks military weaponry to hostile actors is so sincerely concerned with protecting America’s national-defense capabilities that we can trust it to restrict, for reasons of national security, our freedom to trade?