Sunday, March 27, 2016

Trump’s Protectionism is not a Problem

This strikes me as such a blatant piece of hypocrisy from some of the left: they have spent years (rightly) decrying the absurd cult of free trade and the various deleterious neoliberal trade deals passed off as free trade (on which, see Galbraith 2008: 188–189; Baker 2006: 2–3, 18–19), and yet now there is a Republican front runner also vehemently denouncing free trade deals Trump doesn’t get any credit for it. Very strange.

If there is something to criticise here, it is Trump’s laughable lip service to free trade – even while he is deeply hostile to it. He’s a protectionist – just like the protectionism wing of the old US paleoconservative movement. This hostility to free trade is not necessarily a problem – it’s a step forward. (Although, in the interests of fairness, I should point out that NAFTA gets unfairly blamed to some degree for a trend that existed long before it, and NAFTA was only a small part of larger problem, as argued by James Galbraith 2008: 80–81, 191–192.)

At the end of the clip below, Trump actually manages to get to what is in fact the sensible position: we should reject free trade, and strongly support smart (managed) trade.

There is another serious issue of course: would you trust him to actually do something effective and create smart trade for America if he gets into office? I would remain skeptical.

Even more: beyond the pure economic arguments against free trade, we have the tremendous social costs of shipping off manufacturing and outsourcing to the third world: those devastated communities turned into rust belts, with depressed, demoralised, de-skilled, long-term unemployed working-class men. What’s been done to formerly prosperous parts of the Western world is disgusting and outrageous.

A final point: the populist conservatives in America of the early 1990s like Ross Perot were actually prophetic.

Galbraith, J. K. 2008. The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too. Free Press, New York.

Baker, Dean. 2006. The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. Center for Economic and Policy Research, Washington, DC.


  1. Should we not consider the possibility that due to technological progress, many (not all) of those jobs are not gone due to outsourcing and offshorting, but are permanently lost and redundant?

    1. We need to protect jobs in northern Ohio from competition in southern Ohio. Municipal tariffs will make us rich again.

    2. I am ROFL from LK singling out THIS as an example of leftist hypocrisy. It's like singling out Bob Murphy's taste for Star Wars an example of his folly!

    3. "We need to protect jobs in northern Ohio from competition in southern Ohio. Municipal tariffs will make us rich again."

      If this is not a joke, it is ridiculous argument.

      Ohio is part of 1 nation, under 1 federal government that can deal with issues of distribution and uneven economic development, such as by monetary and fiscal policies, taxation, welfare and social security. It is precisely because wealth gets parcelled out and redistributed and people can move to and from Ohio and its parts that make your attempt to throw this out as a refutation of protectionism as childish. Americans have same general standard of living and labour rights etc. and this is NOT like moving production off to the third world and devastating industries within the US.

      Capital movement within a nation isn't the issue here.