That's what I heard recently from a fellow who considers himself to be a fire-breathing, entrepreneurial, capitalist businessperson. "At least," he says, "with the new, split Congress, maybe we can back out of some of this international free trade stuff." This attitude, reported in much of the media, seems to have a wide and growing appeal. That's a shame. It's kinda like saying "I lost all my money, but with any luck maybe I can lose my job, too."
Don't get me wrong, as I've written before on this page, the movement toward free trade and globalization — two ways of saying the same thing — cannot be stopped. Like the Internet, it's bigger than any government's ability to stop it.
Building a wall around our country won't stop it.
Globalization is not a U.S.A. movement; it's a global movement. About all we can do is choose not to participate, and thus not to receive the many benefits of free trade.
How many times must it be proven that guvmint interference in the marketplace is highly expensive, unproductive, and to be avoided? Go back as far as history will take you and you will find that trading centers flourish.
Isolation is the other way around. In fact, the military siege — in which you surround a community and refuse to let things enter or leave — has always been a tool of war. Why would we choose to do the same thing to our own country?
It is one of the marvels of the ages that you and I can buy something that is made in several different countries and then transported to this country cheaper than we could make it ourselves. As we learned in Economics 101, that frees up labor and money so we can devote them to other things that we can provide cheaper than other countries — something like airplanes.
We have been the prime beneficiaries of international free trade. Why would we back out of it?
Yes, I've heard the many arguments that we need to protect our own jobs by artificially raising the price of imported items, thus raising the price that all of our citizens pay for these items. Interestingly, it costs our citizens more in higher prices than the total earned by our thus-protected workers on their "saved" jobs. These are not saved jobs. They are subsidies to a few people at a bigger cost to the rest of us. We would, quite literally, come out better if we just paid these workers a full retirement out of public coffers.
And yes, I know the level-playing-field arguments. Other countries do it, so we must, too. Not so. Why should we deny our citizens cheaper prices on some goods and services just because some other countries choose to do so? We shop for the best prices locally, why should we do otherwise globally?
As one economist put it, "I have had a negative balance of trade with Sears my whole life, and I am the better for it."