The Corner

Protectionism as Patriotism?

From a reader, regarding the question of cotton subsidies:

I am a Republican [and] a regular National Review reader…Allow me one point of disagreement, though….I’m willing to pay more for domestic goods if it ensures that America maintains a robust and diversified economy. That goes for everything from cotton to miniature convenience store knickknacks. Your prejudice in favor of the consumer is a function of our bargain-crazy society. Cheap product is a short-term and near-sighted goal.

There are some forty thousand cotton farms in the U.S., and we must think of our fellow citizens first and foremost. Protectionism isn’t always a positive thing, but sometimes it’s just the patriotic thing to do.

You are welcome to pay more, but I will not be joining you if I can avoid it. Life is expensive enough already. Besides, America would benefit more if the labor and capital currently dedicated to the quaint but economically non-viable task of growing domestic cotton were instead directed elsewhere.

It’s not as though we have an unemployment problem in this country right now — just look at how many illegal immigrants are working, and unemployment is still well below 5 percent. There are also better uses for that land than growing a crop that cannot compete in the international market — other crops, golf courses, office parks, housing developments, etc. As for having a diversified economy, we could also subsidize a factory that makes horse-drawn buggies, but I doubt we’d benefit from that kind of diversity.

I will admit this much — in the event that the world’s cotton producers all become embroiled in a nuclear war, we might have to wear hand-me-downs or wool underwear for a year or two while we re-plant the fields. Beyond that, I don’t see a downside to free trade in cotton…

UPDATE: From another reader:

My father in law and my brother in law are cotton farmers. My wife works for the USDA handing out money to farmers.  I agree with you a hundred per cent, however I have given up placing the truth before these folks. The arguments for continuing these handouts are ridiculous. I was about to send your posts to them, along with today’s WSJ editorial. However Christmas is near…

UPDATE 2: Greg Pollowitz points out that if you want to be patriotic and help American cotton growers, you should buy cheap Chinese-made clothes. Thanks to subsidies from the American taxpayers, we are the world’s top cotton exporter, China is the top importer.

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