Free Trade Is Great

In general.

But we do not live "in general." We live in particulars. And free trade may not be so great in a particular case. An example:

If I had been the king of the United States in 1985, I would have been worried about the fate of Detroit. Yes, the U.S. auto industry has become sclerotic, and things had to change. But I would have worried about the impending death of a great American city. What I would have done is declare a tariff on foreign automobile imports, set high enough in year one to protect Detroit's current sales, and then declining over, perhaps, 20 years, so that at the end there was no tariff at all. This gives the people of the city time to adjust their lives to the new reality. Other Americans would have paid somewhat more for cars during that period, but it would be worth it... to protect the common good of American society.

Of course, I made myself king in the above scenario. An obvious problem is that in reality, once the tariff was established, there would have been intense lobbying to keep it in place. But these practical difficulties are merely indicators that our politics has lost the sense of seeking the common good, and are not a problem with judicious trade regulations themselves.


  1. I think your proposal makes sense.

    It is not that people failed to a noticed a gradual slowdown in manufacturing jobs.

    It is that they were in jobs that were well paying yesterday and then completely redundant the next day.

    The time and the chance to think and process the changes never came.

  2. The United States doesn't have a king. But we do have a president, and in the 1980s President Reagan did precisely the sort of thing you advocate here. In fact, he went further, imposing limits on how many Japanese cars could be sold in the U.S. at any price. The results appear to have been counter-productive (they certainly didn't spare Detroit its current fate).

    I agree that the health of a major city such as Detroit is something statesmen should be concerned about, but I'm not convinced protectionism is an effective way of keeping Detroit healthy.

    1. OK, let's put it this way: IF restricting trade would help prevent the devastation of some American city, it would be worth it.

  3. You're not mentioning another salient feature of Detroit's decline.

    It is probably better for the American "family" to put it mostly on free trade, but the problem still needs to be addressed.