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I Repeat Myself Only Because Protectionists Repeat Themselves

Here’s a letter to a now-regular correspondent:

Mr. Wilson:

You’re determined to portray Trump’s protectionism as an economically informed scientific effort designed to make global trade freer and, thus, to enable American producers to enlarge the scale of their operations. I could not disagree more with your portrayal.

It’s true that the economic theory of trade shows the possibility of enriching Americans by using tariffs to pry open foreign markets. (By the way, it’s surprisingly easy to show that all manner of fantastical things are possible in theory.) But to make a credible case that Trump and his three protectionist cronies – Peter Navarro, Robert Lighthizer, and Wilbur Ross – deploy their protectionist powers in a scientific way requires a demonstration that these four men understand the economic theory of trade. Yet any such demonstration is impossible.

Every word out of their mouths and from their pens reveals that these men are completely clueless about even the basic economics of trade. Whenever they discuss trade they invariably sound to knowledgeable economists like morons. And so the notion that they’re trying to make global trade freer over the long run by apolitically applying advanced trade theory is as laughable as would be the claim that the dancing and shrieking of grass-skirted witch doctors are an attempt to cure patients of arthritis by applying the latest findings of medical science.

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