The problem with conservatism is not Conservatism. It is that intellectually dishonest people use conservatism as a convenient device to rationalize support for their own preferences and candidates. (See WSJ op/ed pages any day of the week.) And for most conservatives, whenever conservative principles get in the way of their own preferences they immediately disregard them. Hypocrisy rules the day (Note: Progressives are not immune either, just slightly less likely to throw their ideology overboard).
So it is refreshing to see Jeff Jacoby writing in the Boston Globe about the benefits of free trade and how conservatives should embrace it and reject the protectionism of Trump.
Protection will lead to great prosperity,” intoned Trump. But that’s just what protection won’t do. If Congress enacts Trump’s protectionist proposals and makes “Buy American” mandatory, whether through higher quotas, import quotas, or procurement restrictions, what follows? The price of baseball caps — and sneakers and cellphones and cars and grapes and lumber — will rise. As a result, fewer people will buy baseball caps (sneakers/cellphones/cars/grapes/lumber). Or they’ll buy them less often. Or they’ll buy less of other merchandise — including merchandise made in America by American workers whose jobs will be endangered by declining sales.
Protectionism amounts to the claim that everyone benefits when choices go down and prices go up. The only reason more Americans don’t dismiss that claim as self-evident crackpottery is because it comes cloaked in the language of nationalistic resentment. Such as Trump denouncing “the ravages of other countries making our products” and urging patriots to support him in “rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.”
Free trade is one of the basic tenets of conservatives. It is one of the basic principles of economics that free trade leads to higher income and more wealth for both sides. But many conservatives will refrain from challenging the war on free trade becausse it will mean challenging their leader, Mr. Trump. But this should not be the case, instead supporters of free trade should challenge its enemies and at the same time answer the creative destruction that free trade brings to those who suffer from it by saying the winners, those who gain, should help the losers, those who suffer through no fault of their own. In this way free trade is a win-win, which as Mr. Jacoby points out is exactly what happens in the macro sense.