The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Protectionist Moment That Wasn’t

(Aly Song/REUTERS)

Does the election of Donald Trump demonstrate that America is experiencing a “protectionist moment” in which the working class, fed up with the effects of free and global trade, fueled a bottom-up movement to curtail trade?

The conventional wisdom seems to say yes. But a new paper by Scott Lincicome, an international-trade attorney and Cato Institute adjunct scholar, says no.

I summarize Mr. Lincicome’s findings in my latest Bloomberg column:

A March 2018 Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, for example, finds that “Americans overwhelmingly think trade is more of an opportunity to boost the economy than it is a threat to it”; the margin was 66 percent to 20 percent.

In the same month, Gallup found that 70 percent of U.S. adults “see foreign trade as an opportunity for U.S. economic growth through increased exports,” while only 25 percent see trade as a “threat to the economy” due to foreign imports.

Lincicome finds that even in July 2016 — the same month that saw Mr. Trump claim the Republican nomination for president — polling respondents were largely disinterested in trade issues, including rolling back free-trade agreements such as NAFTA.

I write in Bloomberg that these findings should give comfort to supporters of free trade, who are on the same side of this issue as the solid majority of the American people. And politicians who have softened their support for free trade might not be reflecting the actual views of their constituents.

In addition:

Lincicome’s findings are also instructive to conservative analysts and writers, some of whom are attempting to conform their policy agendas to what they perceive to be the realities of the Trump era. For example, downplaying the importance of economic growth — the subject of my last column — becomes easier if there is a bottom-up revolt against globalization, free trade and the boost to growth they bring. Lincicome argues that there is no such revolt.

You can read my column here, in its entirety. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

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