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Free Trade Straw Men

In my latest column for AIER I do my best to expose some of the several silly straw men that protectionists routinely slay in their battles against free trade. A slice:

Straw Man: Free trade is cynically imposed on the country at the behest of soulless and greedy corporations.

Fact: Free trade is naturally what exists when government refrains from bestowing special privileges on domestic producers. A government no more “imposes” free trade on its citizens by refraining from taxing and subsidizing their commerce with foreigners than it imposes freedom of movement on its citizens by refraining from shackling them with leg irons.

Furthermore, what greedy corporations want is not free trade at home for the products they sell, but protectionism. Because free trade intensifies the competitive pressures under which corporations operate, greedy corporate owners and managers seek, not free trade, but tariffs and other forms of protection from competition.

You show me a tariff, and I’ll show you a domestic company that lobbied for it.

Straw Man: Free trade is officiously imposed on the country by out-of-touch and arrogant elites.

Fact: This straw man is today, like the populists who frantically fight it, multiplying like Tribbles. Yet it’s doubly preposterous.

First, free trade is simply a condition of freedom for all people – including, of course, for all ordinary man and woman – to choose to purchase imports, and not to have their tax dollars used to subsidize exports. Elites who impose their vision of society on others butt into the affairs of those whom they seek to control. Arrogant and officious elites do not leave ordinary people free to do whatever ordinary people peacefully choose to do – which is to say, such elites oppose a policy of free trade and the principles that support it.

Second, what is elitist – by its very nature – is protectionism. It is the protectionist, not the free trader, who obstructs the spending choices of ordinary people. It is the protectionist, not the free trader, who not only claims to have divined the knowledge of what are ‘the industries of the future,’ but who is so arrogantly confident in his prophecy that he feels entitled to force others to act as he commands.

Protectionists, of course, often peddle their schemes under the banner of helping to protect the masses from the pretensions of elites. But the fraudulence of this advertising is immediately exposed upon realizing that it is protectionists, not free traders, who presume to superintend and override the peaceful commercial choices of ordinary men and women.


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