By seeking to correct global trade imbalances through tariffs, Trump is receiving criticism from Republicans for his protectionist position. Yet the journalists criticizing Trump’s position are overlooking a crucial consideration. That consideration is the possibility that global trade imbalances are, on some level, national security risks.
Contrary to the embittered opinion of dismissive journalists, such a concern appears perfectly reasonable. For instance, consider the following scenario. Imagine an idealistic and contended America outsourcing its labor force under the pretenses of free trade. Then, picture America forfeiting its own unique technologies to other nations by providing these nations with the funds to replicate them.
Likewise, picture these nations become increasingly hostile to free trade–and Western values as a whole. Meanwhile, the global elites and their academic underlings dishonestly swear up and down that a lack of free trade hurts average Americans so much more than it hurts their lust for power.
Implausible? Hardly. First, multinational companies have taken millions of jobs overseas in the 2000s, according to a report from U.S. Department of Commerce. Second, as Gary P. Pisano of Harvard Business Review notes, “In addition to undermining the ability of the U.S. to manufacture high tech products, the erosion of the industrial commons has seriously damaged the country’s ability to invent new ones.” This follows from another of Pisano’s basic observations: research and development are so intertwined that to export one project–like manufacturing–is to export the other.
But what happens if you export both of these? For example, think about training a number of workers to build various micro-computer parts in a foreign country. What stops these laborers, once they receive a sufficient amount of training and capital, from leaving the Americans’ established factory? Why wouldn’t they go to a new one backed by their national regime? Nothing is stopping them. This makes it clear that unrestricted trading with foreign nations is just another way Americans shoot themselves in the foot.
Arguably more important than this question of national security, however, is a moral consideration. Is it morally right to trade with regimes if these regimes have no respect for basic civil liberties? Wouldn’t trade, in a way, back those regimes? Do Americans really love cheap handbags more than a global insistence on rights, like protecting free speech? I can’t imagine that this is so. And I hope many Americans are wise enough to agree.