Every time I accompany my mom to the doctors office, I notice a curiously popular sentiment among the drivers on the road. Almost every single car, usually pick-up trucks, carries the ever-so popular bumper sticker: “Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign!” Much like all the “Buy American” signs, and “Support Your Country” mantra, this has actually become a well received idea. A vast majority of the populace seems to support the concept of protectionism… the idea that buying only American helps your country, builds jobs, and increases national prosperity… while buying foreign is doing a great detriment to the nation, is rabidly unpatriotic, and bordering on treason.
Of course it does appear sensible to support ones own homeland over other’s, and to help sustain and create jobs where you live and make a career. But what of the accusation that those who purchase foreign products and services are actually harming the country, and being unpatriotic, and even treasonous? I think a closer look at the logic behind this populist craze will reveal it to be not only anti-freedom, anti-American, and economically ignorant, but also a scheme introduced by the rich and corporate elite.
Protectionism proclaims that all products, services, and jobs created within America, should be given to Americans. It also holds that all Americans should purchase those products and service within their own country. This model of Nations as self-sustaining entities begs to question: Where does it stop and where does it begin? Where are the lines drawn?
The Protectionist platform perceives the Nation as supreme, that national borders should be the line drawn confining business and trade within a territory. Before I go into the larger picture, concerning free trade and the entire Globe, I want to address the logic of National confinement and self-sustenance. Why, for instance, aren’t the lines drawn at State borders, county borders, district borders, city borders, or neighborhood borders. Why don’t people confine their trade and business to their family, friends, local community, city, or state? Why is the Nation seen as the ultimate place to draw the line and dare anyone to cross at the penalty of the law?
Imagine, if you will, my own community. I live in Livonia, Michigan… a suburb of Detroit. However, I am within a stone’s throw and a half of the city line. The cities of Livonia (to the south) and Farmington (to the north) is divided by Eight Mile Road (yes THAT Eight Mile) which I can see from my front yard. Now, let’s take the protectionist idea and put it into action. Let’s say that out of loyalty to the city, we are forbidden to buy any service, product, or enter contract with Farmington businesses or residents.We can’t even shop at a Farmington garage sale.
This will supposedly build Livonian jobs, and increase our prosperity as a city. We are to be completely self-sufficient and autonomous. We will accept no imports, send out no exports, and trade with no other city in the State, the Union, or the World. Livonians can’t be employed by a “foreign” company, non-Livonians cannot cross the border illegally, or “steal” jobs from hardworking native residents.
Of course the problem with this is obvious. You can’t cut yourself off from interacting with the rest of the world. You can’t tell others who they can or cannot trade, work, or make contracts with, under the threat of force and legal penalties. This is an egregious infringement upon individual rights to interact with others, not only upon the citizens of the city, state, or nation in question, but upon those outside the boundaries as well, as they are barred from relations with those inside the artificial limitations.
Not only is this destructive to liberty and the rights of individuals, but it is also destructive to society as a whole, as it is both illogical and antithetical to economic stability. The natural inequalities of property and various talents make it impossible for individuals, families, or isolated communities to be entirely autonomous. There are a few people who have managed this feat, such as the Amish, but I greatly doubt there to be any persons (even among the lower-classes) who are envious of the Amish, or any other self-sustaining commune.
Individuals and families who choose this path are destined to a life of poverty and indigence. And while this may be what these people want, and are perfectly free to do so, so they may live as they like in peace, it is reckless and immoral to force an entire city, state, or nation into this direction, even at the whim of the “infallible” majority.
As a functioning society, and in order to have a proficient economy, this sort of ideology is utterly destructive and atrociously unwise. In order for the natural inequality of circumstance to balance itself out, trade needs to take place. Those with talents needed by those who do not posses it, will trade products they produce that those with talent do not. In this way those without the ability to grow rice will be able to obtain it by trading wheat, which those who grow rice do not cultivate. Those with the talent and knowledge to fix computers will gladly trade that endowment for something they do not possess… such as money, which serves as a medium of exchange, in order to purchase something they need and desire.
Trade is the building block of the economy. With it comes the need for currency, and the advent of price and wage values by the free market. This, with the increase of savings, investments, and production, leads to an increase in wealth which can be spread throughout society in a just manner. This brings prosperity to the poor, innovations to technology that can lead to increased life-span and bettered conditions for furthered happiness and leisure. Individuals will trade their labor for money, money for products/services, the businessmen and entrepreneurs who sell the products receive the funds to pay their employees and workers. Families will have food, clothing, shelter, heating/cooling, clean/running water, leisure time, technologies, books, cleaning items, maintenance tools, pets, communication products (i.e. phone), beauty accessories, games, television, internet connection, plumbing, a yard, a pool, a privacy fence, plants (flowers and vegetables), and on and on and on.
With the increase of the free market and capitalism came the expansion of wealth, the mass production of products sold for cheap prices to the lower classes (who in previous centuries could not overcome their circumstances and were made to endure horrendous poverty) such as food, clothing, shelter, water, pleasure objects, etc. The division of labor ensures that every service and product known to man comes about in the cheapest and most efficient manner. Competition guarantees that the consumer, the worker, and society at large is served in the best manner (or companies will face crushing failure for not providing excellent service that works towards the public good). Savings, investment, production… all leads to spending, honest credit, and prosperity for everyone.
Why do the protectionists not like this concept, this reality which has been shown in previous decades where Government intervention was unheard of and unbridled liberty was allowed to flourish? Why do they wish to stifle trade, or at least bar it’s expansion from out of a specific region? The fact of the matter is that these ideologues do not understand simple economics.
They say jobs will be lost if purchases are made outside of the borders. Yet this is merely a side-effect of another one of their supposed ailments. The act of excluding imports into the country, and a self-imposed embargo placed upon the people, will make job creation here by other companies near impossible. Policies like this are in place to benefit one corporation over another (those that hire the best lobbyists). It does not promote job creation or protect our wealth. If restrictions such as this are lifted, and more foreign companies are allowed to produce inside the United States, like our companies do in China and other countries, jobs here will multiply. As well, another problem with the populist left (and right for that matter) is their support of restrictive policies domestically. “Progressive” taxation, extensive regulations and beauracratic oversight, along with massive subsidies and corporatist favoritism/mercantilism have subdued economic growth and decreased the amount of wealth the people create.
These Marxist implementations are no friends to prosperity or liberty. Without them companies created here would likely stay here, more jobs would arise, and affluence would prevail. There would be no objection to outsourcing. Our companies would expand into other free market countries and trade with the people there, companies from other nations would come here once the economic limitations put in place by our Government disappeared. Jobs would be created and sustained here, as well as production and savings. We would cease to be a nation of consumers, spenders, and debtors, and become a nation of producers, savers, and loaners.
Not that we wouldn’t spend and consume from others. Trade is all about mutual benefit. We would receive the gain from products and services offered by foreigners, and they would receive the same from us. We have objects, talents, and knowledge they do not, and they retain objects, talents, and knowledge we do not possess. Trade benefits both parties involved, and harms no one. Any need for arbitration from a third party will be offered on the free market as well.
There is no logical reason to draw arbitrary boundaries, and restrict travel, trade, or communications in and out of that artificial periphery. It is not economically helpful, nor is it ethical. It is adverse to human freedom and a rational society. No man, community, or nation is an island unto itself. To talk to, trade with, work among, live in peace alongside, and travel between different people is entirely natural. To block ourselves off from the world is unreasonable and ultimately as self-destructive as it is detrimental to others. The entire globe is one giant human community, and as individuals we must live on the same planet, in the same environment, and with the same scarce amount of necessary objects. Only through peace, interrelation, and liberty can true harmony and happiness be achieved. Individual freedom and human rights can never be sacrificed, and when they are it is never beneficial to anyone, anywhere, for any reason (with perhaps the exception of the aggressor).
This is also not an issue of loyalty, or patriotism. If your father worked at a grocery store, would you confine yourselves to only shopping at that grocery store? What if another grocery store has something the one your father works at does not? What would be the harm of shopping at a place that offers what you need? To purchase services or products that you prefer, just because they are produced in another country, state, city, or community does not mean you are being disloyal or unpatriotic to look out for you or your families best interests. What if all the car companies within the nation you are confined to sells horribly made vehicles? Would you risk the safety of yourself and your family to purchase an unsound automobile simply for the reason that it was assembled near to where you live?
The only reason these boundaries exist is due to the invention of the State. Without this evil institution the only boundaries would be that of privately owned property. The entire community of man (and woman respectively) would not be separated by arbitrary lines that restrict travel, communication, or trade. Products and services should be chosen based on quality and preference, not some concocted theory of “loyalty”. Why should I be loyal to someone because we live under the same Government, within the same pointless borders? Certainly loyalty to family and friends (and community) may come about naturally in certain situations, but to forcefully restrict people to a particular space is not only disparaging to society, but the fake arguments of loyalty and patriotism are foolhardy at best.
The real reason for these monstrous policies are in actuality not about helping the workers, poor, and middle-class in this country, but rather (as with most political actions) to protect the rich elites. Companies that don’t want to compete against foreign business have no problem restricting their entrance into the territory where they are making money. By removing the choice from the consumer and putting it in the hands of politicians and beauracrats, corruption will abound. The rich and elite always foam to the top of the glass, when power is put into play the most corrupt and violent will join the lot. Evil is always drawn to power, in the same way electrons are drawn to protons, or fleas are drawn to a dog.
Politicians are purchased easily by corporations, banks, and elites who want to exercise their will over society. Special interests and lobbyists run the affairs in Washington in the same way puppeteers control their dolls. Once this plutocratic oligarchy is in charge of the show, the motives of everything the State does are easily predictable, as are their tactics.
Even though the populist fervor surrounding protectionism and other big-government economic policies is authentic enough (and this is due to the lack of knowledge regarding the subjects Americans are so passionate about), the goals of the politicians, and those who exercise real authority in this country, are far from altruistic. These protectionist policies benefit the favored companies and organizations against small business, the workers, and middle-class America.
Our economy is now in dire straights, which is equally due to the Federal Reserves monetary policies, because of over-taxation, over-regulation, and over-subsidization of certain businesses at the expense of the others. Protectionism is just as much anti-free trade and anti-capitalistic as socialized manufacturing and universal health care.
We need to put an end to the State’s implementation of these flawed ideas, as well as debunk the very ideology that began it’s practice. We must not indulge these populist positions, or give credence to any scheme the State. Freedom to trade should remain untouched and without any barriers set up by the State to facilitate it’s evil plans. It is not, unlike many would have you believe, in the interest of patriotism, loyalty, or economic success. As well, the attack of personal liberty by these policies should be the most troubling aspect.
Protectionists, in the end, do not protect much of anything… the least of all freedom.
- Justin T. Buell