Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:
Karl Rove writes: “The Bush record shows that if the U.S. gets a level playing field with low or zero tariffs and nontariff obstacles, then American workers, producers and service providers can compete virtually anywhere in the world” (“What Will Convince Trump on Trade?” Aug. 2).
While I’m all in favor of zero obstacles to trade, commentary such as this from Mr. Rove inadvertently aids and comforts protectionists.
First, the murky meaning of the term “level playing field” ensures that it is used chiefly to cloak special-interest protectionism here at home in unwarranted credibility.
Second, even if the “playing field” is indeed tilted, the principle of comparative advantage guarantees that some “American workers, producers and service providers can compete virtually anywhere in the world” – and that other Americans cannot so compete. Hackneyed and self-congratulatory assurances such as the one offered here by Mr. Rove convey the impression that if other countries play fair then no American workers and existing firms will lose jobs and market share to imports and that all American workers and existing firms will be able, if they wish, to successfully export. Yet this impression is invalid and, hence, it conveys false expectations of the consequences of free trade.
As long as free-trade’s friends continue to use the misleading metaphors and language of free-trade’s foes, unnecessary obstacles are faced by those who are working to convince the general public of the economic and ethical superiority of free trade.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030