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Defending Globalization

In my latest column for AIER I applaud the Cato Institute’s – and Scott Lincicome’s – important “Defending Globalization” project. A slice:

The indisputable truth that today the natural range of trading activity is large – certainly larger than the area of any individual country – comes in an ironic form: tariffs and other government-erected obstructions on trade. Only because people are eager to trade with people in different countries do governments feel the need to suppress this trade.

Stated straightforwardly, this truth is undeniable. Nevertheless, it is denied by the many pundits and politicians who assert that elites impose globalization on ordinary people. The implication is that globalization is both detrimental to the masses as well as unnatural. Of course, if these pundits and politicians really believed that globalization is unnatural (and, therefore, must be imposed) they’d be content simply to leave ordinary people free to trade, confident that no, or only minimal, cross-border commerce would occur. The very existence of government-erected restraints on international commerce proves that those persons who are responsible for erecting these restraints understand that what must be imposed is not globalization – that would arise naturally – but economic nationalism.

The allure of economic nationalism, alas, isn’t only real, it’s also powerful. People in different countries and different eras have willingly embraced it. Just why so many people are so easily deluded into believing that they are made better off when their access to goods, services, and investment opportunities is restricted by elites has long been a mystery. This mystery is partly solved by public-choice economics: Voters are rationally ignorant, and disproportionate political influence is enjoyed by special-interest producer groups. Another reason is that we humans are likely evolved to see reality as a struggle between “us” and “them,” and therefore the interest groups who stand to gain from protectionism find success in portraying actions that benefit foreigners as actions that harm us and our fellow citizens while simultaneously enriching those who mean us harm. Relevant here is the fact that trade restrictions are invariably described by their peddlers as both “protection” of fellow citizens and “standing up to” or “fighting back against” foreigners.

Free trade and globalization, although great benefactors of humankind, are not naturally popular. It might even be closer to the truth to say that free trade and globalization are naturally unpopular. Thus they are forever in need of sound defense – which is precisely what is supplied by the Defending Globalization project.

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