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Trump is a Cartoonish Protectionist

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

All that is mistaken about Donald Trump’s understanding of international trade is summed up by this short passage in your report on his long-standing hostility to trade (“Trump Forged His Ideas on Trade in the 1980s – And Never Deviated,” November 15): “Asked in a recent Wall Street Journal interview about the origin of his views on trade, Mr. Trump said, ‘I just hate to see our country taken advantage of. I would see cars, you know, pour in from Japan by the millions.’”

Anyone who sees waves of valuable goods coming to America and then concludes that Americans are thereby being “taken advantage of” has matters completely backwards. Such a person overlooks what should be obvious: namely, that non-Americans sell their exports here only because each and every American buyer of these goods believes that he or she is getting a good deal. Does Mr. Trump believe that he’s being taken advantage of whenever he buys something?

That Mr. Trump regards our receipt of an abundance of goods from abroad as harmful to us is not only bizarre, it’s wholly inconsistent with most Americans’ celebration of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. When Mr. Trump sees jetliners, miracle drugs, larger harvests, and countless other goods and services pour in (as they do) from technological innovations, does he conclude that we’re thereby being taken advantage of by technology? When he observes American businesses improve their efficiencies in order to produce more output using fewer inputs, does he worry that we’re thereby being taken advantage of by sound management practices?

It’s distressing that we have a president whose one core, unshakable economic conviction is that we are impoverished by the abundance that comes our way when our tariffs are low, and that we are enriched by the deprivation we suffer when our tariffs are high.

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