George Will on Protectionism

From the Washington Post:

But protectionism is unconservative, unseemly and unhealthy -- indeed, lethal.

Unconservative? Protectionism is a variant of what conservatives disparage as "industrial policy" when nonconservatives do it. It is government supplanting the market as the picker of economic winners. Another name for industrial policy is lemon socialism -- survival of the unfit.

Unseemly? America has no better friend than Australia. Yet such is the power of American sugar interests that the Bush administration has forced Australia to acquiesce in continuing quotas on its sugar exports to America. That was a price for achieving the not-exactly "free trade" agreement signed last weekend. But look on the bright side: Restrictions on beef imports will be phased out over 18 years.

Is protectionism lethal? Promoted by Democrats hawking their compassion, protectionism could somewhat flatten the trajectory of America's rising prosperity. But protectionism could kill millions in developing nations by slowing world growth, thereby impeding those nations from achieving prosperity sufficient to pay for potable water, inoculations, etc. Developed nations spend $1 billion a day on agriculture subsidies that prevent poor nations' farmers from competing in the world market.

It's refreshing to see a mainstream pundit criticize protectionism. What's even more interesting is that he takes on the notion of 'managed' free-trade 'between nations' in the form of treaties and agreements, which more often than not, are simply crypto-protectionism disguised as free trade, giving special interests favored status and undue advantage.

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I'm glad he made the

I'm glad he made the distinction between "free trade" and free trade. Too often, in fact almost exclusively, this is lost on people, conservative and liberal alike.

At least it lets us understand that when Marxists are bashing "free trade" this is what they mean, not unhampered freedom of association and contract between people in different countries.

At least it lets us

At least it lets us understand that when Marxists are bashing "free trade" this is what they mean, not unhampered freedom of association and contract between people in different countries.

I don't agree. Marxists see things like the WTO and NAFTA as the 'free market' in which foreign workers are 'exploited' by big business.

Marxists think that a

Marxists think that a cronyist system, complete with huge corporations who pull political strings (including at the WTO and NAFTA) is what capitalism necessarily results in. This, of course, I disagree with.

Jonathan, It's

Jonathan,

It's mirror-imaging. Both the state socialists and the state capitalists have a vested interest in maintaining the polite fiction that the neoliberal regime is "free trade." That way, people like Bill Gates and Dwayne Andreas can pretend that they're just rugged individualists, and not welfare queens sucking on the government tit. And the state socialists can pretend that government power is necessary to break the power of TNCs, when in reality all that's necessary is for government to stop giving them handouts.

Similarly, Art Schlesinger-style "progressives" and plutocrats have a shared interest in pretending that FDR's New Deal was opposed by big business, and replaced a "laissez-faire" system that prevailed until the Hoover administration. The plutes get to pretend that actually existing capitalism wasn't massively statist from the beginning, and that their profits today don't come mainly from government intervention. The "liberals" get to pretend that they aren't just tools of one wing of organized capital, in the great tradition of Gerard Swope and David Rockefeller.

I'd like to see an

I'd like to see an intelligent and principled capitalist take a seat next to Lou Dobbs on his show and slam him on his "Exporting America" drumbeat. Last night he decried the (I'm paraphrasing here) "religious dogma" of the free traders on both sides of the aisle and of course, his guest agreed with him.

It's sad when the business news community can't understand what's at stake here.