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On Biden’s Protectionist Measures

In my latest column for AIER I express my disagreement with Noah Smith’s argument that Biden’s motivation for imposing his protectionist policies is largely to enhance America’s national security. A slice:

Perhaps the most glaring flaw in Noah Smith’s essay is that nowhere in it does he give as much as a shred of evidence in support of his principal claim, which is that the chief (or, perhaps, only) purpose of Biden’s protectionism and industrial policy is national defense. Smith says that the overriding objective is to better ensure national defense, but his assertion rests on nothing more solid than an assumption – an assumption made in apparent ignorance of the White House’s own claim that at least one key purpose of its tariffs is to “protect American workers.”

Perhaps Smith takes this assumption about the primacy of national defense as valid because, as nearly always happens, when some protectionist scheme is proposed, its supporters declare that among this scheme’s many benefits is that it will enhance the country’s national security. Biden & Co. are not above pulling this move. And it’s true that, if Biden’s protectionism is going to be justified, success at such justification is more likely if it rests on national-security grounds than on purely economic grounds, as the economic case for protectionism enjoys no credibility among serious economists. But there’s no reason to conclude that, therefore, Team Biden’s trade policy is chiefly about national defense.

Can anyone who is familiar with Joe Biden’s history believe that the man is interested in anything much beyond maximizing Joe Biden’s electoral prospects? He’s an ambitious lifelong — and obviously ethically hollow and intellectually shallow — politician. This reality alone should cause any realistic person to suspect, strongly, that Biden’s protectionism is overwhelmingly and above all about expanding and cementing his political support by creating rents for special-interest groups.

In his assessment of Biden’s protectionism, Noah Smith doesn’t first consider, and then reject in light of evidence, the well-known possibility that this protectionism might be driven chiefly by interest-group politics. No. Smith simply assumes this possibility away by never considering it.

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