The Corner

Economy & Business

One Big Idea for Trade

Michael Tanner is correct that both Trump and his Democratic critics are awful on trade. Trump’s critics, Tanner says, don’t offer very many big ideas of their own. Here’s one: unilateral free trade, an old idea whose time has come again:

Protectionists often describe reciprocity as if it were a cover charge for admission to American markets, but that gets the issue exactly backward: The question isn’t whether Washington may properly interfere with foreign sellers but whether it ought to interfere with American buyers. The case for allowing Senator Sanders to interpose his political interests between buyers and sellers is non-obvious, on either moral or economic grounds. It takes a special kind of stupid to believe that a voluntary exchange — willing seller, willing buyer — is transmuted into a form of hideous predation simply because some of the parties to the transaction may hold different passports. To accept the premise that a voluntary exchange — which by definition is held to be beneficial by all involved parties — becomes a matter for federal police powers when the magical phrase “national interest” is uttered is to reject the intellectual basis of free enterprise per se and to accept in its place the operating assumptions of managerial progressivism: that you are to be permitted as much liberty as the bosses think useful.

We can have trade that is run by the actual buyers and sellers of goods and services. Or we can have trade that is run by politicians.


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