Economics is boring. Maybe even dismal. But Politics can be interesting to people. Well, sometimes. Funny-looking haircuts, energetic handwaving and clever insults seem to help keep people interested too.
Donald Trump has brought Economics to the fore of our National Conversation. One of the deepest rifts between Mr. Trump and the mainstream Republicans of our sad era (some call them neocons) is on the issue of Free Trade versus Protectionism. Before we comment on that though, a few words on our dire political situation as conservative Christian voters.
Social Conservatism is Dead.
The neocons, those strange socially libertarian but economically liberal creatures, have abandoned the Party’s vaunted social values and fiscal responsibility at the national level. They have done so to embrace gay marriage, “stimulate” the economy into recovery, spread through violence the healing secular gospel of Democracy to countries like Iraq, Syria and Iran that refuse to hearken to its Holy Call on their own, and “prove that we can govern,” whatever that means. See for example one of National Review’s recent abominations, “An Equal Chance at Love: Why We Should Recognize Same-Sex Marriage“. Yes, these are the intellectual movers and shakers of the Republican Party. How low we have sunk.
Social conservatism is dead, in terms of traditional Christianity’s ability to shape the national political agenda. The rise of gay-friendly Republicans and the nomination of a Mormon presidential candidate alone demonstrate that the American Christians have given up their will to shape the political discourse according to our religious beliefs.
And on the issues of social conservatism we have our reasons to doubt Mr. Trump will even represent the will of the voters he courted so ardently in Iowa, Utah and Montana. We knew he wasn’t one of us from the start but hoped he would act like one of us.
Like the good book says, “Love suffers long” (One Corinthians 13:4), and Christian Republicans have suffered much in their quest for electability. But Mr. Trump seems to be proving yet another unfaithful lover, in the social realm at least. He went on after Orlando to assure the Gay lobby he will effectively represent their interests, he has defended the “wonderful things” Planned Parenthood does for women, and he serenaded Bernie Sanders supporters “left out in the cold” by the Democrat superdelegates’ unshakable determination to crown the Lizard Queen their party’s nominee, despite her manifest corruption taking huge donations from foreign interests into her slush fund The Clinton Foundation, despite her rapist husband, and despite her utterly unlikeable persona in her own right.
So do I regret supporting the Don? Nope, to my mind he was always the only one running who could defeat Her Majesty and the media machine every Republican candidate is up against by default. Better a potentially treacherous ally than an overtly anti-Christian traitor against United States interests in power.
To be honest though, I also think there is something to be said for Trump’s Protectionism. Free Trade potentially brings with it some very serious problems. Since apparently there’s some misunderstanding about what we mean by “Free Trade”, by “Free Trade” I mean minimally encumbered trade of physical goods between countries, allowing private businesses in America to shop for the cheapest manufacturer without worrying about taxes on imported goods.
On the other hand, Protectionism imposes tariffs on foreign goods in the attempt to keep domestically made products competitive. So from a purely theoretical standpoint, I will give three reasons we might be skeptical about free trade despite the oft-repeated belief among conservatives and libertarians that in a perfect world, free trade would be universal. They argue Free Trade tends to lower the price of goods, increase citizens’ buying power and make us all wealthier by optimizing the global division of labor according to those products each nation is able to make most cheaply and/or with the highest quality depending upon the nature of the market. Before I give my reasons for skepticism that though…
But Doesn’t Trump Say He’s a Free Trader?
But is Trump a Protectionist in the first place? Trump claims that he is a Free Trader. He says things like, “I support America-first free trade, free trade that works for America.” But then the question becomes, “What do we do, Mr. Trump, when it looks like Free Trade is taking away American jobs?” And his answer is “place a tariff on the foreign goods.” If Carrier Air-conditioning moves its factory to Mexico from America, put a high tariff on Carrier Air-conditioners, Trump says. If China will not adhere to copy-right law, or intentionally inflates or deflates its currency for short-term economic gain, Trump suggests we place high tariffs on Chinese goods.
But this is not any kind of “Free Trade”. Because Trump is willing to use tariffs as a means to raise the price of importing foreign-made goods in order to keep production jobs in the United States, his policies are correctly described as Protectionist. Trump may confuse the ignorant by using nonsense terms like “America-first Free Trade”, and avoiding the apparently dirty word “Protectionism”, but no freedom is truly free if it can be taken away when an elected official thinks it’s starting to hurt the American economy, and Trump’s proposed policies are Protectionist in practice if not in name. So let us turn to potential theoretical drawbacks of Free Trade, as opposed to Protectionism.
1. Empowering Potential Enemies
Free trade makes your nation dependent upon others. When you embrace free trade full-sale as a nation, the result is specialization by nation. Each nation will specialize in what they are very good at making, and they will make it for very cheap so that companies in other nations will be unable to compete on a level playing field. Japan will make all the cars. France will manufacture all the vaccines. South Korea all the computers, etc. I’m obviously not sure who will make what, but the general trend is that each country will specialize, get really good at a few things, and become dependent upon others for other things.
But let’s say South Korea makes all the computers, and we go to war with South Korea for an extended period, or South Korea just places us under a universal embargo. Well, guess what? We don’t have any computers available anymore. Or more realistically, we do, but they are expensive and ordinary people cannot afford to buy them for the next five years while we build the infrastructure to allow economy of scale to kick in and make thousands of them cheaply.
In order to avoid this calamity, the United States might even bend its policy to the will of South Korea if South Korea threatened the United States with taking away the cheap computers. So we see how free trade might make it difficult for a nation to independently act, if its cheap goods are on the line.
2. The Need to Move Away for Specialized Jobs
If we continue this line of thought about South Korea making computers, let us imagine that I am a computer hardware factory worker. I am skilled at putting together computers. In order to work in my chosen field, I would need to move to South Korea. This might be problematic for me if I had, say, a close extended family that I was interested in staying near. In fact, this specialization will have the tendency to split people off from their homelands, and Americans in particular would need to be willing to move away from America, pretty much permanently in order to work for competitive wages in their chosen fields. This is, to say the least, socially problematic and could even be described as dyscivic, as it would force people to relocate away from their culture, families, traditions and everything they know in order to live in a foreign land as a foreigner working for decent wages.
3. The Inability to Protect Human Rights
Speaking of wages, they’re going to be pretty low. The United States tends to believe that wages should be high enough that a person can live on them, pay his portion of the rent and survive. It used to be believed in the United States that one worker should be able to support an entire family off of his wages, but feminism did away with that. In foreign nations, conditions are much harsher, and poor workers are willing to stoop much lower and work much harder for a wage, nor do those governments have any desire to encourage wages to rise, since that would decrease their products’ competitiveness in the global market. Other countries additionally have much lower standards in terms of human rights, permitting factory owners to force children to work, with no requirement to provide workers with breaks, or proper protective equipment. These burdens are borne by the workers in these countries while the owners and nations enrich themselves. In short we don’t want our businesses to be in direct competition with the antagonist of a Charles Dickens novel.
By engaging in free trade with these nations, one places oneself on a level economic playing field, implicitly accepting the working conditions by which they produce the product at their low asking price, and preventing one from imposing restrictions on working conditions in your own country without destroying their competitiveness in their own country. So globalism and free trade seems like it will tend to have the effect of sending working conditions down to the lowest common denominator, since the country willing to impose the most inhumane conditions on its workers will tend to advantage economically off the misery of its workers.
Do I have all the answers? No, but I think the Globalist Free Trade advocates are too quick to ignore the potentially devastating political and social side effects from their policies in their myopic quest for monetary profit.
At bottom, the problem is that not all nations (not even the United States) have a firmly Christian understanding of the dignity of man and his rights as a human being. Our culture, though fragmenting, still has ingrained in it a sense of decency and the vestiges of Christian morality. Globalism may be the fastest way to destroy even that by breaking up those who still breathe that culture and scattering them to the four winds.
Protectionism and the imposition of tariffs on foreign goods provide some degree of insulation for those who operate under the limitations of Western morality and culture, preventing the workers and employers of the United States from having to compete directly with the sweatshops of other less developed countries. Might there be higher economic costs for goods? Certainly. But not all goods can be measured in economic terms. And higher prices at the store may be the price America has to pay if it wants any kind of social cohesion, identity or culture.
Comments and criticisms are appreciated.
My theology blog is Defense for the Hope, linked below in my Bio. Stop by.