American greatness is defined by one word: liberty.
Generally, liberty is the right to live our lives as we see fit, as long as we don’t violate the rights of others. Government’s job is to protect those inalienable rights (not grant them). Government, through our system of checks and balances, is not supposed to act in an arbitrary manner and do what it wants just because. This is the rule of law.
Liberty means individuals:
-Have the right to speak out.
-Have the right to worship whatever deity they wish, or abstain from worship altogether.
-Are free from arbitrary searches and seizures of their persons or property.
-Are free from punishment without due process.
-Are free to defend themselves.
-Are free to pursue their dreams and (if successful) make a profit from that pursuit.
To paraphrase the 9th Amendment, the list above is not meant to deny or disparage other freedoms.
The United States has struggled to live up to these ideals in the course of its history, but it has done better than any other country to allow liberty to flourish.
Which leads us to Donald Trump’s inauguration.
President Trump said he would use today’s speech to define American greatness. Sadly, the components of liberty were missing from his speech.
Instead, we got the fallacy of protectionism. Some key quotes:
For many decades, we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.
Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down.
We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.
This demagogue is clueless. These facts have been stated before on this blog, but they bear repeating again if protectionism is going to be our governing policy for the next 4 years:
-Free trade makes us wealthier. According to Daniel Griswold’s excellent book Mad About Trade (reviewed here), an American family of four is $5000.00 richer because of trade. Internationally, countries with open trade are significantly wealthier, have lower hunger indexes, and even have stronger environmental standards.
-“Buy American” provisions are job losers, depending on the level of export losses we endure due to trade retaliation. From the book Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America, economists Richard Vedder and Lowell Gallaway estimate 20% of the increased unemployment from 1929 to 1932 was a result of the notorious Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.
-While the job creation aspect is sometimes overstated by free trade proponents, there is a benefit.
-Protectionism that benefits certain industries always comes at the expense of other parties.
There is no morality in forcing one party to essentially pay a ransom to a second party because the second party has special political connections. If a business wants my money, than make a superior product. Provide superior service. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be in business.
If this is what the Republican Party stands for now, it’s a disgrace. I hope they fail.
We need a Milton Friedman now more than ever.
**UPDATE 1/20/17: Here’s a study showing the impact of withdrawing from NAFTA. Not too good for Trump’s vaunted manufacturing sector. Also, Radley Balko ponders the ramifications of Trump’s vow to end the country’s “anti-police atmosphere.” Not too good if value your civil liberties.