Why Ben Shapiro Is Wrong on Free Trade

Isaac Newton was a genius—perhaps the most intelligent man ever to walk this earth. It was he who uncovered the laws of motion, he who unraveled light’s mysteries, and he who first invented calculus. His work underpins modern mathematics, physics, and engineering.

And yet Newton lost his entire fortune in the South Sea Bubble—the 18th century’s great stock market crash. Newton was dreadfully overconfident. He thought his genius in mathematics would make him a genius investor. He was wrong. He had no idea what he was doing, and he paid the price.

That Newton made this mistake is unsurprising: expertise, knowledge, and even intelligence are often domain-specific and compartmentalized. In his book Moonwalking with Einstein, the former American memory champion Joshua Foer notes that chess masters can often recall every competitive game of chess they’ve ever played—piece positions and all. And yet, their memories are no better than average when it comes to memorizing poems or phone numbers. Their memory skills are domain-specific. Importantly, domain-specificity applies to all manner of expertise.

Sometimes the epistemic divisions are obvious: no one would take medical advice from a banker, neither should they take financial advice from their surgeon. But it isn’t always so clear-cut. For example, where do we draw the line between politics and economics? Can we even make a valid distinction between the two? In these circumstances, we tacitly assume that someone knowledgeable in politics is likewise knowledgeable in economics, and vice versa. This is often false.

Consider Ben Shapiro. In addition to being one of America’s most popular Republican commentators, Shapiro is a well-educated, articulate, and intelligent man. Likewise, Shapiro is an expert in a number of subjects including political science and law. And because of his obvious competence in these fields, his audience assumes his competence in others—particularly economics.

That assumption is wrong. Shapiro has a fairly shallow understanding of economics and lacks the historical knowledge to put what he does know into context. For that reason, his economic commentary is only as good as the source he parrots. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his opposition to President Trump’s tariff agenda.

Never Joust Scarecrows

Ben Shapiro recently released a now-viral video in which he claims to have “debunked tariffs” in three minutes. I suggest watching the video before proceeding.

Shapiro begins by saying that President Trump does not support tariffs on economic grounds because it is impossible to do so. Instead, he thinks Trump wants tariffs for cultural reasons—tariffs are just a part of the political narrative. Nonsense.

Trump has called for tariffs on economic grounds since the 1980s, and to claim now that Trump is lying is unnecessarily dismissive, patronizing, and profoundly unhelpful. Rather than straw-man the president and proceed to joust his effigy, Shapiro should address the arguments head-on. He needs to tackle the economic case for tariffs.

Eventually, he attempts this, noting that richer countries often run trade deficits—therefore trade deficits are good (or at least not bad). Shapiro states that Iran has a very large trade surplus, but it is fairly poor. Conversely, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada have the world’s largest trade deficits, and yet these nations are among the world’s richest. “Where would you rather live?” he asks. Also, developing countries like India often run large trade deficits—clearly surpluses aren’t needed for economic growth.

Trouble is, Shapiro cherry-picked his examples to prove his point—the totality of the data shows quite the opposite, that countries with trade surpluses are both richer and grow faster than those with deficits.

According to the International Monetary Fund, the average per person gross domestic product (GDP) at purchasing power parity (PPP) for the 20 countries with the largest trade surpluses is 48 percent larger than those 20 countries with the largest trade deficits. That is, the average GDP per person in the countries with the biggest trade surpluses is $49,941, while the average GDP per person in the countries with the biggest trade deficits is only $25,787. Countries with big surpluses are richer than those with big deficits. That’s the opposite of what Shapiro claimed.

Further, according to data from the World Bank, those countries with large trade surpluses grew faster than those with large deficits. The average annual rate of GDP at PPP per person growth between 1980 and 2014 for the above trade surplus nations was 5.46 percent. Meanwhile, the trade deficit nations grew by an average of just 3.99 percent. Essentially, nations with trade surpluses grew 27 percent faster than those with deficits over a 25 year period. Most importantly, these data account for changes in population—we’re talking about real growth here.

When Shapiro picks Iran as his representative trade surplus nation, you must remember that he did not pick Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Israel, Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden or China. Likewise, when he picks Canada as a representative of a trade deficit nation, remember that he did not pick Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Oman, or Brazil.

On balance, nations with trade surpluses are richer and more technologically advanced than deficit nations—but you wouldn’t get this impression from Shapiro’s video. His argument is nothing but sophistry.

Banana Republics Export Bananas, and Other (Obvious) Truths About Trade

Shapiro bases his understanding of international free trade on David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, which states that countries get richer when they specialize their production in things they are relatively good at making, and trade the surplus for things they are relatively bad at making. Essentially, trade makes all parties richer because it ensures that labor is used more efficiently.

Comparative advantage is an elegant theory, but it too is domain-specific—it only works when certain preconditions are met. For example, capital must be immobile for the theory to apply. Shapiro ignores this crucial limiting factor, and applies comparative advantage to just about everything. This is his root error.

Just as bad branches bear bad fruit, so, too, do incorrect presumptions lead to incorrect conclusions. For example, comparative advantage suggests that the key to getting rich is to specialize production, regardless of what you produce. That is, a country with a comparative advantage in growing soybeans should focus on growing more soybeans, while a country with a comparative advantage in manufacturing semiconductors should focus on manufacturing more semiconductors. In either case, this supposes, their relative wealth will correlate with the degree of specialization, as opposed to the complexity of their production.

This is objectively wrong.

In a 2006 paper titled “What You Export Matters,” economists Ricardo Hausmann, Jason Hwang, and Dani Rodrik found that that sophistication of a nation’s exports is highly correlated with that nation’s wealth and growth potential. Essentially, countries exporting things like cars and computers were richer and grew faster than countries exporting things like bananas and iron ore. Not only is this perfectly consistent with the above findings, but it makes logical sense when you understand how economic growth really works.

Contrary to what the theory of comparative advantage suggests, not all industries are created equal: some have high growth potential, others have very little.

A 2002 paper by Stephen Redding of the London School of Economics found that economic growth is contingent upon technological innovation, and is therefore path-dependent. In other words, the majority of economic growth occurred in those industries most likely to generate or benefit from new technology, and that these industries build on those which came before. They are predicate industries, which could not exist without their respective anchor industries.

A Tale of Two Cities, Understanding Path-Dependence

This is complex stuff, but an example should clear it up.

There are two states, Athens and Sparta. Both are equal in every way. One day, an Athenian invents the pottery wheel, which allows potters to make amphorae 10-times faster than they could before. The Athenian pottery industry grows by a multiple of 10 over the next year. Likewise, the rest of Athens’ economy benefits due to the plentiful supply of cheaper pottery.

Meanwhile, something similar happens in Sparta. A Spartan mechanic invents the bellows, which allows Sparta to smelt iron as opposed to bronze. Thereafter Spartan tools are made of iron, and thus stay sharper longer. Sparta’s entire economy benefits from better tools. In both cases, economic growth was driven by technological innovation.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The next year an Athenian invents the flywheel, which allows potters to power the wheel by pumping it with their feet, rather than spin it by hand. Likewise, the Spartans invent the blast furnace, which allows them to smelt steel. This makes their tools even more efficient. Again, economic growth in Athens and Sparta was caused by technological innovation—innovation that was path-dependent.

Path-dependence recognizes that innovation builds on what came before, and that later innovations are impossible without the necessary foundation. In our fictional example, Sparta could not have invented the blast furnace without first being familiar with the bellows. Likewise, with Athens and the flywheel. The lesson: technological innovation, and thus economic growth, is path-dependent.

Although this point is somewhat tautological in nature—of course, there would be no Boeing 747 without the Wright brothers—it is nevertheless ignored by political pundits and economists alike.

Buying the Future We Should be Building

Ben Shapiro seems to think international free trade is in America’s best interests because it lets us maximize our comparative advantage, and therefore use our labor most effectively. The problem is our comparative advantage is in agriculture and resource extraction, by virtue of our relatively low population density and plentiful natural resource deposits.

Likewise, what comparative advantage America does have in high-tech industries is diminished by the fact that foreign governments heavily subsidize their advanced industries, steal our intellectual property, and benefit from nominally cheaper markets. Under such conditions, many otherwise competitive American industries either cannot compete, get bought out by foreign (often government-backed) rivals, or are forced to move abroad to reap the cost-savings.

As a result, America’s advanced industries—those most likely to generate new technologies, and drive long-run economic growth—are waning. Detroit is moving to Mexico City, Boston is moving to Bangalore. Data from the Brookings Institute confirm this: some 36 percent of America’s advanced industries have already moved abroad, and that the number of “innovation capitals” located in America has dropped by two-thirds since 1980. Bottom line: more and more key technological advances will be made abroad, rather than here at home.

Without high tariffs to level the playing field and reverse this process, America will soon be on the outside-looking-in, buying the future we should have been building. Ben Shapiro would be wise to revisit his presumptions, before advocating the intellectually bankrupt political ideology that is global free trade.

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130 responses to “Why Ben Shapiro Is Wrong on Free Trade

  • Awesome that our great American president is smashing Free Trade dogma.

    Send Free Traders back to the Democrat party where they belong. (Keep neocons company over there).

    Lincoln had 50% tariffs on imports and that caused America to become Great the first time. Republicans are the majority party when the working class is the priority.

    • You should google historical graphs of Federal tax income. Before we had an income tax, the Federal government was primarily funded by tariffs. We’ve had protectionism since Day 1 and only dropped it to rebuild Europe at the end of WWII. It was beautiful on several levels. :)

      • This is true.

        We need to remember that the American System of high tariff walls explicitly favored American workers, which boosted wages & created artificially high employment. This had the two effects of (i) increasing the demand for productivity-saving technology, which boosted long-run economic growth (we invested more in capital equipment and innovation); and (ii) we staved off the demand for socialism and big government, since working people don’t need government welfare.

        By offshoring millions of good-paying industrial jobs, we have reduced labor costs (which hurts the majority of Americans, who work for a living, and curtails the need for innovation), and turned many states blue—jobless people vote Democrat. This has helped the Democrats win elections, increasing taxes & regulations on everyone else.

        My question, was saving $0.1 on pencils worth the creeping socialism caused by free trade’s rough edges? I doubt it. We’d be better off with high tariffs and small government, than no tariffs and socialism.

      • ” We’d be better off with high tariffs and small government, than no tariffs and socialism.”

        Ten thousand page tariff schedules are, by definition, not “small” government. Indeed, centrally planned tariff schedules more resemble socialism than anything else. Industry or resource specific tariffs carry the weight of both government corruption and corporate cronyism.

        Tariffs are taxes. If you are discussing replacing income taxes with tariffs, as I believe the Constitution was originally imagined, and they are appropriated equally, across the board, I am more likely to agree. If you are proposing increased government wealth confiscation based upon trade, you are not promoting either small government or anti-socialism.

      • Who said anything about “ten thousand page tariff schedules”? Import taxes don’t have to be complicated—and they weren’t until fairly recently.

        Tariffs are taxes, sure; but they’re also entirely avoidable, unlike general sale or income taxes. Don’t want to pay tax? Don’t buy imported products. Rather simple.

        And I think you’re misunderstanding my point: given that tariffs necessarily increase demand for domestic labor, they will increase the number of jobs, and wages for most people. Those who lose out will be people working in capital-intensive industries. However, employed people don’t rely on social welfare programs, and are far less likely to vote for higher taxes & bigger government. Therein lies the payoff for “the rich”.

        Remember, the rustbelt used to be the Republican heartland—it was only after the post-Reaganites abandoned them that they flipped to the Democrats. Had Republicans not reversed their traditional position on tariffs, America would have remained a much more conservative nation. You can blame social & economic dislocation for the ascension of the radical left as much as anything else.

      • Here in Peru it’s simple. If you bring it into the country, you pay 19 percent on it. No tables, no schedules, no nothing.

      • A flat rate decreases the ability of bureaucrats to attempt to direct the economy, something they are uniquely unqualified to do. So, like with other taxes, a flat rate is preferable to bureaucratic meddling.

        The people involved in international trade in Peru have their competition taxed. Who pays this tax? I assure you that foreigners are not paying it.

        Like corporate taxes, tariffs are paid by the consumer. Claiming that it benefits the poor to pay more for things from people of the same nation is sophistry of the highest order. Bastiat properly mocked such ideas over a century ago.

      • Marshall, what are the poor? They are people who lack good jobs, competitive wages and property. How does WTO tariff “free trade” help these individuales? It provides cheaper goods for sure, but open markets also ensure unemployment and lowered wages, until such time that the emerging market balances with the established US market. This balancing further diminishes the US economy, thereby diminishing their welfare entitlements and quality of life.

        The WTO is international government imposed socialism trade, it is not free trade. It harms the poor in America, more than it helps them. It perpetuates poverty.

        Tariffs create jobs and raise incomes along with prices for goods. The increased employment and higher wages help offset the increased cost of goods. The primary function of tariffs, is to protect the established nation’s economy from being harmed by co-mingling with the emerging nation’s economy. Without tariffs trade is deleterious to established markets and becomes redistributive in nature.

      • If tariffs did all of these magical things, shouldn’t we be placing them on products produced in different States? Just think of the jobs created if every product which crossed State lines had a 20% tariff added! 50% and we would all be rich beyond the dreams of avarice?

        Tariffs are wealth transfers. They do not create wealth, they simply move it around. Socialists are most fond of bureaucrats moving other people’s money around.

      • First of all that tariffs between states would be unconstitutional, just as WTO trade is unconstitutional. Secondly, states exist within the US economy. Any gain or loss between them, stays within the US economy. All federal spending in a state, equates to entitlement spending or welfare for that state. It is redistributive and should stop immediately. China’s gain via trade surplus with the US necessarily comes from the US bank account via trade deficits. Global trade is like a bank account, there are deposits and withdrawals, income and expense. When spending exceeds income, bankruptcy results. This is the primary reason the US has a 20-Trillion debt. We are financing our international purchases to the detriment of all US citizens (income tax increase). A tariff is a freeze in credit spending. Free traders think a nation can pay off its credit card by spending more on it. Its insanity or is it? These folks also subscribe to globalism and the New World Order. They are enemies of the USA and conservatives are drinking their Kool Aid.

      • Tariffs represent bureaucrats transferring wealth that they did not create. Collectivizing 320,000,000 does not change the fact that the government is picking winners and losers. Steel workers get a raise and garbage collectors and maids pay more. Waving your arms changes this basic fact not at all.

      • The only price increase, is one that a buyer freely chooses.The poor don’t buy much, thus the increased cost is carried by those who buy more. All buyers can shop elsewhere and purchase American products that are not taxed. That is not socialism, it is taxation.

        The WTO TPP NAFTA and the like all create government partnerships with corporations to fix prices and regulate laws. The “agreements” are top secret and kept hidden from Americans. Thus they are illegal/fraud/embezzlement. That is socialism: government/corporation cronyism designed to profit nations and corporations while screwing consumers.

      • Ah, at least you admit there is a price increase. It is undeniable, someone has to pay the tax. Why people think it is foreigners makes no sense.

        “That is socialism: government/corporation cronyism designed to profit nations and corporations while screwing consumers.”

        Tariffs profit who? Who pays them? Tariffs profit government, duh. Consumers pay taxes. Your quote here actually is the exact opposite of what a tariff is.

      • Tariffs are only a tax in the context of globalism. It is a tax on globalism. Tariffs are a tax on socialism. Those that pay the tax do so freely.

        If applied properly, tariff income decreases income tax slavery. It thus liberates people from Government tyranny.

      • That increase only exists because of the artificial decrease in the price paid via subsides to China paid via income tax. Thus tariff are not really a price increase.

        It is a shell game of global welfare and national debt. Those cheap imports created a 20-trillion US debt that America have to pay back. Add to this, lost GDP, lost jobs, lost production, lost tax revenue. Tariffs end up being far more affordable than WTO trade deficits and decreasing growth.

      • WTO regulates price, terms and laws. Picks winners and losers. Collectivizing 6 billion is far worse, less competition than nations competing. WTO=Global socialism/Marxism.

      • Wait, you recognize that the WTO is (broadly) socialism but think that if we increase it, it magically becomes Liberty?! Or did I miss the part about eliminating the WTO? Steel tariffs ADDED to what the WTO already does, tax imports/exports.

        The WTO does represent bureaucratic control over individuals. It appears to me that you think that some more bureaucratic control, as long as it is done by American bureaucrats, it will be productive?

      • WTO should be banished. It is Global despotism. It is unconstitutionally regulating US trade. That power belongs to Congress alone and thus, we the people. Less bureaucracy is better. However, anarchy like communism, also results in tyranny. America’s founding fathers all utilized protectionist tariffs to liberate America. Tariffs minus income tax slavery, made America into a Global super power. WTO’s mandated tariff reductions, have raped America. Individuals and corporations don’t have rights globally. There is no Global nation, yet. Our rights or lack of them, exist only within our respective nations.

      • So, like the other imbecile, either $4,000,000,000,000+ a year or “anarchy”?

      • I’m not anti trade. Trade is good, if it is done in the interest of the citizens that own the nation. Trade for the sake of trade benefits only bankers an multinational corporations.

      • Socialists?
        your assertion opens you up to basic questions.

        What form of “Socialists”?
        What do you consider as “socialist”?

      • So you would change the subject to the definition of socialist? Replace with unelected parasite bureaucrats issuing diktats? How about “the opposite of Liberty”?

        You should probably go to an English language site if you wish to argue definitions.

      • You use the word socialist and you don’t intend to define it in context when challenged except to say “opposite of Liberty”?
        You expect to be taken seriously when it comes to policy discussion?
        Define liberty.

      • Socialism is government corporate partnerships. It is corny capitalism. It is trade deals like the WTO. Socialism regulates and legislates to harm or help corporate interests.

      • It appears that Marshall Gill doesn’t know that prior to 1913 tariffs funded the government and still could if they were well thought out

      • WTO is wealth transfer from the USA to China, India, Mexico etc…
        WTO creates national security and sovereignty issues.

      • Exactly. Just look at the US. You used to be able to have a life working at a shoe factory in the US. Now, even if there WERE any shoe factories left in the US, you’d be working for starvation wages.
        Also, you’d be stygmatized as a “blue collar type”. God forbid. My point is that back in the day, the blue collar types could have a nice life, and still afford the doctor, the dentist and college. Since we’ve outsourced many products/jobs, the population has become more stratified (rich are richer, poor are poorer) and everybody is on the treadmill trying to have a big house, a fancy car, and all the other bullshit. But they aren’t any better off really.
        Globalization is great for the guy squatting on a dirt floor in China someplace, but bad for the blue collar/middle class in the US. I’d love to elevate the whole world to US standards, but NOT at my childrens’ expense. Fuck globalization. Up with tariffs.

      • Yes, exactly. Globalization is welfare for emerging markets and multinational corporations at the cost of established Western Civilization.

      • And not being satisfied with taking our jobs and fucking over our economy, now they want to destroy our civilization.

      • Being in Peru you are also forced to trade more with the world, imported goods are necessary, so protection , is also necessary.

      • Save that for our present system is socialism for the rich and is not free trade capitalism. The ‘capitalists’ being backstopped against loss by our Central Bank’s ability to foist the cost of losing speculation upon the taxpayer. While the ‘capitalists’ create ever more layers of payment determination management structure to extort ever more money from captive customers.

      • Income tax was created in 1913 by progressive Democrats to fund the newly created Federal Reserve. The goal was to enslave Americans and free corporations. It succeeded.

    • I wouldnt call free trade dogma, its much like a lot of liberalism, great if you can live in a world where no one will take advantage of another or cheat another. Unfortunately, that’s not the real world…… in the real world we have to protect ourselves as people, and nations.

  • decades ago a relative observed, “Here we are, Americans, exporting raw materials to the world, lumber, unprocessed grains and beans, steel ingots while selling and exporting the entire capital equipment of closed factories. Yazzah, the future sure looks bright for snake oil.”

    • America was founded as a resource-extraction colony, and if the free trade brigade has their way, we shall return to this ignominious past.

  • Since when is Ben Shapiro an expert on anything? The man is only 34 years old! I am currently reading a book about a well-known philosopher who said that a man doesn’t really learn anything prior to age 40. Shapiro’s “expertise” is strictly theory he learned in college. He’s a “commentator” who doesn’t know enough to comment. Ignore him. I do.

    • I listen to him, he does have a certain amount of knowledge politically…… economically he’s not an expert at all. but you’re right about most of his knowledge being theoretically learned and not lived through life. The hope is that he continues to learn life’s lessons and doesnt get an ego about himself…… lately, the way he’s been sounding, you could flip a coin which way he could go.

      • that’s up to him…… they said the same thing about Rush Limbaugh in his early days and he’s still going strong almost 30 years later. Really its up to Ben but if there is a distinct difference between Ben and Rush right now, its that Rush has humility to own up when he’s wrong, Ben does not.

      • And your basing the idea that Ben is not an economic expert “at all” on what, exactly? Your vast economics knowledge? If you agree with Spencer then it is clear that it’s you who isn’t economically literate AT ALL. You clowns sound more like the left day after day.

        Pick up an economics book and understand why close to NO economist suppots tariffs, you dolt.

        Just more logical fallacies from the peanut gallery.

      • Then you’ll have no problem actually refuting the evidence laid out instead of hurling insults. If you actually pay attention to spencer’s argument and my backing of it, he points out ben’s use of selective data from history to prove his point. He then provides the context of the ENTIRE data from history to disprove the point…. it’s a simple matter of digging deeper which Ben didn’t do, nor the majority of economists running off at the mouth on tv.

        Am I some great economics expert? Nope, I’m just a guy who chose to educate himself further to get the whole picture.

        Now if you actually have evidence to refute the claims and not just”because every economist says so” I mean actual data, I’ll be happy to listen, however if throwing out insults is all you have, you’ve lost the argument.

    • One cannot simply ignore the biggest conservative commentator in America: his audience is vast, and disproportionately young. He is responsible for deluding a generation on the point of economic globalism, and needs to be corrected before the damage is done. We cannot survive another generation of deindustrialization & asymmetrical trade with the Third World.

      • we wont, our western society is on the verge of matriarchal collapse…………2026 , America will be a dictatorship.

    • Wow, is Spencer’s entire audience built of people who base their arguments on logical fallacies? Do you people even know how to form an argument?

      • The argument is cogent based on complete data, instead of ben’s empirical data which is only partial in nature, that’s actually the point of the article and it’s associated links, to provide proper context. It’s not about believing spencer or Ben, it’s about getting the complete picture. Judging by your comments, something you’ve refused to do.

  • Dear Mr. Morrison,

    I assume your observation regarding the domain-specificity of expertise can be applied to anyone, including yourself, right?

    You do not seem to be an international trade theorist nor a historian of economic thought. Thus, I would suggest that you revise the sources you are parroting regarding the theory of comparative advantage, because they contain important inaccuracies.

    First, David Ricardo had no theory of comparative advantage. Second, he did not assume international immobility of capital.

    Ricardo’s rule for specialisation was the same as Adam Smith’s. Both believed that it is beneficial for a country when its residents buy foreign-made articles instead of pricier local products of similar quality. No special preconditions required.

    You can read the longer explanation in this paper: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3095473

    • Assuming both of those things are true, how does this impact the implications if, as you say in your paper, most economists still get it wrong? Wouldn’t that just mean that the economics field as a whole gets the presumptions wrong and therefore so does Ben Shapiro still?

      • Ben Shapiro is not the benchmark for the case for free trade. Many economists are indeed making a rather poor case for free trade. The original case for free trade, formulated by Smith and Ricardo, is much stronger and not so easy to refute.

      • I read and commented both articles when they were published. They are rather classic examples of a straw men argument. The parts about Ricardo have very little if anything in common with what he actually wrote.

      • Neither of them are straw-man arguments. They address classic economics and quote the primary texts. Cheers.

      • that article refuting free trade was really good, and also really long…….. this is the problem with talking economic policy…… there is no simple way to explain it all so not everyone is going to be willing to take the deep dive. I think focusing on national security for our reasoning is going to be the example that hits home with most of the nation, especially in the rust belt where a lot of jobs were lost.

      • ” The original case for free trade, formulated by Smith and Ricardo, is much stronger and not so easy to refute.”

        The theoretical case for free trade is quite strong. When other people refuse to participate and they actively take advantage of your lack of economic defenses, there’s no free trade to actually be had. We can talk about all the cloud castles we want, they’re all quite beautiful, but they don’t actually exist.

        And I haven’t gotten into the obvious massive security risks of being unable to produce our steel, oil, etc, etc . But you wouldn’t want to talk to me about that, I’m “hiding my identity”

      • this is exactly right, the first thing to realize is america is the only country participating in free trade practices, all other countries exercise protectionist policy…….. free trade within its bubble works splendidly, when its exercised by all…… if only one country exercises in free trade and all others exercise protectionist, the free trading country loses by default.

    • I agree. That the wrong of say China taxing/penalizing its citizens and manufacturers for purchasing imports or to subsidize exports, doesn’t make it right for the US to do the same to its citizens. Note that China does this for the benefit of politically connected rich business owners, whose business is uncompetitive globally and otherwise would likely go out of business (usually because the business owners kick back large sums to the politicians who implement the trade policies to their advantage).

      I find your point about comparative advantage, or specialization of labor, is easiest to understand via a thought experiment. If trade with foreigners is bad, well then so is trade with your neighbor. So one should consider, as a thought experiment, how prosperous they’d be if they did no trade at all, and relied entirely upon their own resources and produced all they consumed. Why, they’d be unlikely to even produce a pencil, let alone a computer, car, TV or even TV shows to watch. Or even produce metal unless they owned land with the right minerals. We’d be back to the stone age.

      While I wish Trump success in getting foreign governments to lower their trade barriers, I don’t want to see increased taxes on US citizens or manufacturers who actually pay US tariffs. And I have to fault the author, for failing to provide a link that actually goes to Shapiro’s 3 minute video (it goes to Shapiro’s facebook page and I was unable to find the video there). And I find the author’s “path dependence” unpersuasive, because innovation crosses borders quicker than goods do.

      As for further evidence, let’s not forget the results and fate of Republicans Smoot and Hawley. Their tariffs contributed to US GDP falling by nearly 50% within 3 short years before the tariffs were repealed (and we hope to have a mere 4% growth each year) and they lost their seats in Congress. Tariffs clearly led to less prosperity, probably even for those in the protected industries. Remember, far more people are employed in manufacturing using steel, than are employed in producing it. And raising their costs via tariffs, makes their products less competitive globally (because their competitors don’t pay US tariffs) leading to their jobs and capital moving overseas.

      • “doesn’t make it right for the US to do the same to its citizens.”

        Yeah, totally. I say the only moral thing to do is let other people lose their jobs and make sure can’t make a d*mn thing for ourselves because it’s “not right” to penalize China for doing what’s not right???? There are no security implications whatsoever if we have to get all of our steel from China and then need to make a tank. What could go wrong?

        “As for further evidence, let’s not forget the results and fate of Republicans Smoot and Hawley. ”

        Yes, we wouldn’t want to forget that. eyeroll It’s completely unclear what Smoot and Hawley did and honest research papers into the subject talk about that. Smoot/Hawley mostly affected the upper middle class merchants classes, with little to no impact on the masses. The Depression was multi-factored with many other government interventions having more impact on middle class workers, including price controls.

      • It is nonsense to claim Smoot Hawley caused the US GDP to decrease 50%, or even to contribute to that decline. Combined US imports and exports were less than 10% of the economy in 1930. These tariffs did not suddenly appear from nowhere. America had high tariff walls from the beginning (and dramatic rates of growth). Other nations had higher tariffs. Smoot Hawley tariffs increased tariffs somewhat. Our major import was coffee, major exports logs and grains.

        Milton Friedman and another economist (Higgs I think) investigated the influence of Smoot Hawley over time. They estimated a 1% effect over 10 years (not 1% per year, 0.1% per year) and it was impossible to determine if it was a positive or negative influence. This catastrophic Smoot Hawley canard shows up repeatedly.

        The discipline called Economics is full of shibboleths such as “invisible hands”, “the seen and the unseen” and Ayn Rand. To one familiar with physical sciences this “economics” is some kind of voodoo cult.

    • “You do not seem to be an international trade theorist nor a historian of economic thought. ”

      And you are???? Oh yeah, a guy in combox, just like me except you got someone to publish a paper for you. And you know what they say about PhDs…

      “Ricardo’s rule for specialisation was the same as Adam Smith’s. Both believed that it is beneficial for a country when its residents buy foreign-made articles instead of pricier local products of similar quality. No special preconditions required.”

      You are not familiar with Adam Smith’s complete work. Yes, he was proponent of free trade when it could exist. He understood in real life tarriffs were necessary.

      Adam Smith also lived in a world where transportation costs made it so that the “foriegn made” articles might have only been as foriegn as Scotland.

    • (i) I am a historian. You can buy my book on the history of international trade here:

      https://www.amazon.com/Bobbins-Not-Gold-Countries-Rich-ebook/dp/B06XW3FDLH/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

      (ii) The theory of “comparative advantage” was first articulated by David Ricardo. There are important differences between his theorem & Adam Smith’s theory of “absolute advantage”, and the fact that you appear to be conflating them leads me to believe that you haven’t read either Smith or Ricardo. And we’re not talking about a distinction without a difference—the differences are profound, and their implications are massive.

      (iii) Ricardo’s assumption of capital immobility can be found at 7.18-19 of “On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation”. You can find this book online for free.

      As a final note, I actually read your paper last year when you sent it to me. However, I think your understanding of Ricardo is flawed. I don’t mind repeating the discussion for everyone here, but I would advise you to (i) go back to the text & (ii) consider the historical context in more depth.

      I was having a discussion with Ian Fletcher a few months ago (who wrote the book “Free Trade Doesn’t Work” with which you may be familiar) on Adam Smith’s opposition to “mercantilism”. I argued that once you understand the historical context, his opposition is not really to the mercantile trade paradigm per se, but to the corporate kleptocracy & bullionism with which classical mercantilism is often conflated. I still owe him a paper on this.

      But I think this anecdote highlights my point: historical context matters—you cannot rip Smith out of the eighteenth century & assume his theories (i) are still valid or (ii) he would still apply his theories given the fundamental economic differences in today’s economy: principally capital mobility, virtually free shipping, and automation via robotics & computers.

      • I am glad you have joined the discussion, Mr. Morrison.

        (ii) In my latest paper (https://ssrn.com/abstract=3095473) I show who made the original distincition between absolute and comparative advantage (it was John Stuart Mill), and why it is wrong to counterpose Smith and Ricardo in this respect. You will find there many quotes from the original sources, and a novel interpretation of the famous numerical example that follows very closesly what is written in the Principles.

        (iii) I am sure you don’t mind the present here the specific quote from the Principles where Ricardo allegedly assumed capital immobility.

      • Likewise, it’s good to hear from you again. I appreciate your novel insights.

        (ii) Given that this appears to be a new paper, I will need to read it before replying. Likewise, I realize your interpretation of Ricardo is novel, and must be dealt with on its own merits, as it side-steps most of the regular critiques.

        (iii) I provided the chapter & paragraph numbers for you above.

      • I appreciate that you take the time to read the paper.

        (iii) The two paragraphs 7.18 and 7.19 cannot be properly understood without reading the one before.

        7.17
        “Thus England would give the produce of the labour of 100 men, for the produce of the labour of 80. Such an exchange could not take place between the individuals of the same country. The labour of 100 Englishmen cannot be given for that of 80 Englishmen, but the produce of the labour of 100 Englishmen may be given for the produce of the labour of 80 Portuguese, 60 Russians, or 120 East Indians. The difference in this respect, between a single country and many, is easily accounted for, by considering the difficulty with which capital moves from one country to another, to seek a more profitable employment, and the activity with which it invariably passes from one province to another in the same country.”

        Ricardo is referring here to the fact that capital moves more easily between provinces of the same country than between different countries. This is as true now as it was in 1817.

        What he did not say above or elsewhere is that capital cannot move between countries. Such a claim would have contradicted the realities of his time.

  • What is especially astute about this article is pointing out Ben’s misuse of statistics…… as they say, statistics can say whatever you want them to, when you dont use ALL of them.

  • The way I see it is free trade is comparative to the supply side economics. Only in the case of free trade the supply side is foreign nations and not the rich. Supply side economics works because there is a referee. The government, poised to punished if rules are broken. There is no such equivalent for the global market.

    Now Shapiro is right that free trade does grow an economy but only so far as both sides are free trading in good faith. If one side is not, then the whole idea fails. Tariffs provide a mechanism that can function as a check on free trading in bad faith. Which makes it the best mechanism to function similarly to the role government plays in the supply side economic theory.

  • Like all NeverTrumpers, Benji was banking on Trump losing so as to profit from being in the “I told you so” camp. In short, throw the country under the bus for his own self-serving motives (under the guise of having principles). Not buying anything he says.

    Not so smart after all.

    • Ouch. It was painful upvoting you here but will give credit where it is due. Dr. Williams has an exceptional intellect. If you are interested in economics, it is also always enlightening to read Dr. Thomas Sowell. He has a number of excellent books on the subject (and a few other subjects as well).

      • Well, you will get over the pain. And I will no doubt give you an opportunity to downvote me later. I remember decades of Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell and Hayek being revered by conservatives. I don’t think steel and the other heavy industries were driven out of America by lack of tariffs. It was greedy unions and government programs (EPA,ADA, Obamacare, etc) that combined to drive up the cost of producing here. Also, our old factories could not compete with modern new factories. It was like old Kmart versus new Walmart. It would be far better for Trump to focus on reducing the load (cost burden) that the government puts on every job by doing more drastic cuts in regulations and mandates and taxes. We can have factories here in some cases with higher labor costs if other costs, like transportation or time to deliver to customer, are less.

        But I believe Walter Williams is spot on. And if he is then we are now proceeding down a bad road.

      • I think you’re missing the point, tariffs or lack there of were never the reason steel left, it was bad domestic economic and trade policy combined….. the domestic policy was easy to see, high taxes, high regulation, its a no-brainer to put a lot of blame on those policies, but bad trade policy is a part of this too. Free trade requires the trading partner to trade freely and honestly too and , in a perfect world, free trade is a policy that makes complete sense. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and free trade provides zero consequences for deceitful economic and trade practices. As it stands , the U.S. is a free trading country, in a protectionist world.

        That is where the argument for tariffs starts, they are not the endgame but the leverage. There has been WAY too much focus by economists, including Walter Williams whom I revere, on tariffs within the bubble of the direct consequence of the tariff itself, not the cause of the tariff. Tariffs are not the goal, trade wars are not the goal, they are the tools to bring back sound economic policy both in domestic policy and trade policy.

        Did no one pay attention to how the stock market kept going up and up and up yet GDP growth was stagnant for 8 years. The stock market did great, the rest of the economy stank, because the market of global trade of currencies hid horrific trading practices. Money was made, but not produced by US.

        No one is taking away the claim that the tariff is a tax, it is, in no uncertain terms a tax. It is a tax that is offset by more local production and higher wages LOCALLY. We also have the option to innovate locally to produce steel more efficiently. If China were producing steel at cheaper cost honestly, there would be no need to slap a tariff on their steel. Instead they government subsidize their industry (with no sanction from the WTO I might add) overproduce steel that is not as good of quality as what can be made here. They shift their steel making facilities from town to town to mask their overproduction and flood the market with both cheap AND under-quality steel. They then sell it to the world at prices below cost that drive down the world wide market price. Yes we only get a small portion of our steel directly from China, but how much of the steel we buy from other nations (which has a tariff from said nation on it btw) is chinese originated steel. current estimates are in the 30% range, which is pretty significant. We are not the only ones being cheated either. Other non steel producing countries are getting cheap steel as well and often times pass that steel on to poorer countries, and use that money to buy better steel.

        The bottom line with steel, and to a lesser extent aluminum have been artificially held under price for a good 3 decades, every country has felt the pinch and US took the biggest hit with job loss and loss of production, the last 6 years have been particularly brutal to the steel industry with a third of our mills shutting down due to the inability to compete on the world market. Our industry has had high regulation (even with the cuts recently there is still A LOT of regulation within the industry) and high taxes which contributed no doubt, but those also hid the bad trade policy of free trade instead of fair trade. If China doesn’t subsidize its steel, the companies have to at least sell it at cost, and in turn would not drive our local refineries out of business.

        Fair trade should be the ultimate goal here, the WTO needs to do its job and the countries cheating the world need to be held to account. Tariffs are the beginning of that accountability.

      • Williams actually uses logic and history to support his claim.

      • The logic is flawed based on a partial look at history. Not his fault, I’m sure it’s the way he was taught too. The vast majority of economic education was only partially taught for the last 75 years. You can count on Walter Williams if you want, I prefer to take a complete look at economic history and be my own judge of what’s right and what isn’t.

      • Yeah right. You know more than Walter Williams, Thomas Sowell.

      • I chose to dig deeper. Not to mention not only in this article but in morrison’s Comments he’s cited other articles to back this one, articles and this article give a more complete view of history.

        Like I said if you want to rely on economists without doing the leg work of digging deeper, that’s your choice. All the supporting evidence is here in this article and in the related articles with actual history to back it all up. It’s not just assertions it’s assertions with historical proof.

        Which is why I aptly pointed out that free trade can work, if you can rely on your trade partners to not play dirty. The theory is sound, the practice isn’t and history repeatedly backs that up. It’s a matter of how deep you’re willing to dive for the truth of things. A little common sense along the way doesn’t hurt.

        I’ll give you the same advice I give anyone, don’t rely on peoples’ opinions to make your judgements, check the history for yourself.

        I revere both sowell and Williams but they are not infallible, and they have the humility to tell you the same thing.

        So on this issue, because I chose to dive deeper, yes, I know more than them. They could still beat the pants off me in most other economics issues.

      • Well, Trump is targeting China, with 25% tariffs on steel and we get 1% of our steel from China. The tariffs will apply to everyone else but Mexico and Canada. Of course, tariffs are a US government tax on US citizens. Brilliant after just cutting taxes.

      • We get 1% DIRECTLY from China….. how much do you think is passed through other nations?

        Also what is more important to you, a slight increase in the cost of steel, but that steel being made here in the homeland, supplying thousands of more American jobs not only to the steel industry but the supported industries that not only rely on quality steel but the other aspects of steel making,( for instance coal tar, which is used in everything from medicine to driveway sealer.) or would you rather get foreign steel that’s a little cheaper but has destroyed thousands of jobs across multiple industries. The lack of homeland production of steel has caused skyrocketing prices in the affiliated industries.

        Those of us within the steel industry, or like myself in an affiliated industry have been feeling the pinch for 30 years, whether there was a tariff on steel or not.

        That’s what I’m trying to drive home here, there’s a much bigger picture than just steel and aluminum, there’s all the industries they support and that support them. Tariffs are the reaction to bad economic policy both here and abroad, not the first strike or the last shot. We’ve been in a trade war with the world that up until now we haven’t fought, and the heartland of America has been the casualties.

      • Well, how much comes through China which is excluded? OR Mexico? I guess Trump will send policemen to the ports in Vancouver and Mexico to see if steel is passing through. Is it marked with Chinese food menus?

      • Way to totally gloss over the point with a smart aleck remark. If you want a serious discussion I’m game but if you’re going to start going down the rabbit hole of absurd then I think you and I are done.

      • I believe in free trade. You believe in government bureaucrats putting taxes on American citizens to raise money for the government and raise product prices. You believe politicians should raise prices on certain preferred products so that that those who donate money to them are happy. You dont care about the jobs that are lost by the result of the high prices that tariffs produce.

      • completely untrue on what I believe, don’t straw man my beliefs. you are totally misrepresenting what i have clearly said. Yes you believe in free trade, I do too, when you have partners you can freely trade with that won’t screw you……. THAT is the real difference between us, you are looking at what should be, I am looking at what is in reality.

        I believe some tariffs are necessary to protect industries that make our nation self sufficient. It has nothing to do with politicians other than their incompetence on economic policy.

        So if I don’t care about the jobs lost based on the high prices tariffs produce, you CERTAINLY don’t care about the millions of jobs already lost within the industry and its affiliated industries. Those jobs already lost were based on the loss of producing steel here in the homeland. Like I said before, steel production supports many industries other than things that require steel. not only did the steel industry suffer all of those other industries suffered too.

        In the driveway sealing industry startups have come and gone like the wind year to year because sealer prices are so high…… that stems directly from a lack of steel production. The cost of tires went way up, medicinal creams….. and a host of other industries supported by steel making……. those jobs are gone until we can restore domestic production on a world competitive market.

        So you tell me who’s playing god with jobs….. this president or the past 4 presidents. Might I remind you those past 4 presidents also had bad policy with higher taxes, higher regulation that resulted in whats best for wall street and forgot about main street.

      • if your’e going to boil it down to simplicities (huge mistake in my opinion) , then on that same token, you don’t believe in our government protecting us when other nations choose to screw us.

        oh and newsflash, the economy is managed by the government in free trade too…… hellooooooooooo regulation and domestic taxes.

      • Every nation tries to screw every other nation. We screw every country that makes sugar. If China wants to give us steel at lower than market cost then isn’t that good?

      • no, because it undermines our own steel industry and affiliated industries depending on steel making.

        what happens when the market is flooded so badly that our domestic production completely stops, without something to stop china from flooding the market , that is the logical conclusion…… our steel stops first, because its the most expensive steel (due to good working conditions and good pay) then a war hits….. how do we produce for our military without a domestic industry……

        also on the sugar front, false flag, we have a tariff on sugar yes, we don’t screw them……. I suggest you do some more reading and get a deeper grip on economics, you’re making the same lightweight talking points the left does and that is never productive in an actual conversation on economics.

      • We happily undermine our own steel industry with greedy unions, short sighted management and government policy that doubles the cost of manpower with mandates and regulations. Maybe we should clean up our own backyard before blaming everyone else.

      • uhhhh hello, we lowered taxes, and massively cut regulation already (with more regulation cutting coming)…… as for unions, thats between them and the steel industry bosses and their negotiators.

        the next step from the government perspective is to reset the international market back to fair competition, of which tariffs are the first step to bring them to the negotiating table.

      • We still have the ADA, we have minimum wages, we have the EEOC, we have the EPA, we have Obamacare. We have a long way to go. By the way, is Trump putting tariffs on oil?

      • no one said it wasn’t a big hill to climb as far as deregulation, 30 years of regulation takes a while to unravel. as far as tariffs on oil or not, youll have to ask the administration that, he hasn’t talked about it, that doesnt mean it isnt in the cards.

        On the same token the oil commodity is a bit harder to undersell on the world market because its a gathering resource as compared to steel which is a refined resource. Oil can only be controlled by literally controlling supply and demand, chinese steel is different in that it can be refined in what’s essentially half-closed economy so pay rates, subsidies, and cooking the books are all easily done with no consequence. Also we are on the verge of a pivot in oil imports and exports that, as long as oil is not illegally sold on the world market,flooding it to drive the price down (something the russians could do, or may have done already, I honestly dont know one way or the other as i have not taken the deep dive into that particular cluster-you-know-what) we will be the lead exporter of oil, not the lead importer of oil……

        long story short, given the current circumstances; tariffs on oil might be a useless thing to do.

        btw sorry for the delay in response, I was out of town for most of the day.

      • Some people believe in Santa Claus, doesn’t make him real. Free trade is a leftist talking point created by FDR and indoctrinated into every mind in every school in America since the 1946. What is free about millions of pages of regulations imposed on sovereign nations by despotic international government? Nothing. Not one thing! Even in the abstract “free trade” is deleterious to developed nations economies, because it redistributes wealth to the emerging markets. That is exactly what GATT, WTO NAFTA and the like have done as they replace tariffs and protectionist measures with despotic regulations.

      • Free trade is an American free enterprise talking point. The left loves tariffs. Why? The left loves taxes.

      • Historically, Republican were the party of higher tariffs and Democrats were the party of lower tariffs. Both parties were pro tariff Protectionists. The communist anti tariff new world order movement was started by FDR in 1945 with the passage of GATT and the institution of global government. This results in a loss of 20% of global GDP for the US economy. Under our founders Protectionist tariff trade the US gained 37% of global GDP. Facts matter.

      • Not true.

        Democrats have been the party of globalism and lower trade since 1776. Republicans have been the party of protectionism, labor and nationalism until corrupted by Progressives in 1945. Free trade does not exist, it is a leftist / globalist talking point to trick conservatives into believing that banning tariffs is somehow free trade. It is not, it is globalist socialism. Free trade does not exist. It has never existed. A tariff is a nation’s right to negotiate price and terms.

        “Conservative” free traders, are either globalist hacks or indoctrinated morons. I use to be the later.

      • On economic matters I take their advice any day over the guy who said Ted Cruz father killed JFK.

      • Free trade is a myth, so is fair trade. The WTO is a globalist enterprise that subjugates and regulates. Nothing capitalist or free market about it. When two individuals trade with each other, they agree to price and terms without regulation. That is fair and free capitalism. When a nation can do the same with another nation, then and only then do we actually have free and fair trade. By definition each party in a free market us a protectionist. To mandate otherwise is some form of communism or socialism.

      • Like the UAW and detroit in the late 70’s…….they refused to listen to the market. It was Chryslers bailout that forced detroit to listen. Steel industry unions drove the steelers out of business.

      • they certainly had a hand in it, high taxes, high regulation, and recently an artificially depressed world market (thanks to china) all had their hands in it too.

  • Agree with author, OPEC countries (e.g., Saudia Arabia) were rich exporting oil, but now recognize (thanks to USA Fracking) they can’t be just a raw material exporters, but must develop value added industries (Hence MBS https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-economy-vision-analysis/new-saudi-mega-city-is-princes-desert-dream-idUSKBN1CW2G6 )

    High protectionist tariffs no, but low tariffs that encourage value added industries and jobs to stay/start here, yes.

    And yes, Ben is a serial pontificator running on gut mental instinct, not deep and thoughtful reflection, as he builds his media empire.

  • You don’t have to be all-or-nothing – you don’t have to be completely for total free trade, or completely against it. There is a middle way.

    Certain industries should, must be protected. Read a history of WWII and the Germans’ need for oil, for just one example. We’re lucky they didn’t have enough at their disposal.

    The United States must nurture and protect certain industries – it’s not exactly sheep and green pastures out there, there are a lot of wolves.

    Ben Shapiro is a smart guy – but apparently, not smart enough to realize what he don’t know…I’m old enough to know how dumb I am, but also smart enough and wise enough to know my limitations and my strengths. I know not just from my own experience, but from watching others, that almost everyone thinks they’re a lot smarter and wiser than they really are – and I also know that to tell this to people like Ben usually doesn’t penetrate into their brains!

  • The problem is that free markets have both libertarian and conservative cachet. Unfortunately, as Trump has pointed out, free markets are a fiction, and we only persist in believing in them through self delusion. The world does benefit from reduced barriers to international trade, but for any single country, the trade-off is less than zero sum if they acquiesce to the covert protectionism of their trading partners.

    I recall that the Nobel Prize in Economics about 40 years ago was awarded to an economist (Swedish, I think) who proved that economic growth derived almost exclusively from technological advances. Apparently even economists don’t learn anything any more.

  • Those like Shapiro arguing against tariffs on economic grounds often make the fatal mistake of assuming a static economic situation and then calculating the result of any proposed tariff, sort of like static CBO analyses of tax cuts on the budget. As Spencer points out, they don’t begin to account for the complex dynamics between world free markets and the often very unfree countries that have learned to manipulate them and gain control over market dynamics.

    In addition, arguing about markets in a vacuum, devoid of their interrelation with world geopolitical competition, conflicts and war is narrow-minded. Those factors are often exponentially more detrimental to economies than purely economic ones. Economies are dynamic and evolving entities that thrive best not only within a climate of free markets and technological diversity but most importantly within a stable and peaceful one.

  • Ben is a sharp young man that is still wet behind the ears. He has a lot of life to experience, which is why he is still so naïve regarding many of life’s events. I can hardly watch him anymore because he gets it wrong so many times.

  • Mr. Morrison, Excellent article on this topic! I’ve been reading about & listening to people talk about tariffs, but no one has explained the situation like you have with this article. I don’t have an extensive background in economics but I’ve felt in my gut that President Trump is right in his approach to fair vs. free trade. It just makes sense that if some countries have relatively low barriers to their markets but face higher barriers to others’ markets, sooner or later the one with lower barriers is going to lose industries to the high barrier countries. And then find themselves buying products from other countries that formerly were produced in-country or would have been produced in-country.

    I hope you’ll find a way to get your article directly to Ben Shapiro. He seems to enjoy debate so I would hope he’d appreciate some pushback on his argument. Perhaps he’d invite you on his show to debate the topic. You appear to have the facts on your side. As you state, he’s a smart guy and hopefully that means his ego isn’t too fragile to take in those facts and make a change of mine. Thanks much.

    • Ben responded here:
      https://www.dailywire.com/news/28302/yes-tariffs-are-still-stupid-heres-why-ben-shapiro#

      Trump understands trade and the necessity for tariffs. So did Bush, Clinton and Obama. The difference is that Trump wants to make America prosper and the other guys subjugated the USA to bring forth the new world order. They were all subversive puppet presidents like Wilson and FDR. Progressive radicals that hate the USA.

      The founding fathers all used tariffs to protect the USA and to make it profitable. Every president until the progressive era of Wilson in 1913 and FDR in 1945 used tariffs. The radical left which controls the media and public school indoctrination has successfully brainwashed the entire nation into pursuing its own demise.

      Trade is intentionally made confusing by economists that are ideologues with agendas. Typically economists are hired by industry and or governments to increase sales and revenue or to sell a policy. For most multinational corporations this is done by increasing globalization trade. America’s loss, is the world’s gain. The WTO’s tariff “free trade, is all about global redistribution of wealth and thus the subjugation of the USA and Western nations.

  • Great work Mr. Morrison. Substantive, compelling and quite readable for the
    lay person like myself. Ben is a Harvard alum ~
    An ‘Ivy’ pedigree carries enormous cache with many conservatives and liberals. To underline Sam McGowan’s comment Ben’s intellectual chutzpah gets the “worst” of him at times. Truth should always be the highest priority when one is entrusted with a public position ~ even for Harvard graduate.

  • Man, oh, man – the economic illiteracy here is painful. The ad hominem attacks are embarrassing – that’s Leftist methodology.
    Ben Shapiro is right. The article above does not disprove Ben’s point, which, BTW, has been the free market economic analysis for almost two centuries . I’ll weigh in on the merits in my next post. If you’re really an advocate for freedom and economic prosperity, you need to grasp why markets work. Government intervention always advantages some at the expense of others. This surrender to tariffs only proves our side’s utter failure to educate even our side!

  • My comment isn’t really about free trade or tariffs but a musing sparked by “Buying the Future We Should be Building.” I know little of economics and trade, but if I understood the essay rightly, it seems to me that what we have done as both individuals and communities is the same thing America has done as a nation; that is, in pursuit of efficiency and increased productivity we have become overly specialized.

    I was raised in the rural South and spent most of my life here, and one of the things I try to do, something that naturally flows out of rural life, is to not outsource my life. I try to do modest car repairs, cut my own grass, fix my leaking pipes, paint my fences, becomes broadly competent in Home Economics, basically.

    A city lawyer, say, who works 100 hours a week in his specialty has to “buy rather than build.” Most people seem to think it’s good to outsource all the mundane, quotidian aspects of living, including child-rearing, but we lose something and sense something missing but can’t even begin to identify it. We make ourselves into a cog and then we remove the lubricant. Is it any wonder we grind down?

  • Good article Spencer. I like Ben, but he is young and naive. It is hard to overcome the indoctrination that exists in America especially as it pertains to “Free Trade” propaganda. The reality is that our most prosperous period in history, as measured by global GDP gains (35%), was during our protectionist era. Likewise it is clear that since FRD’s trade liberalization in 1945 (GATT), the US as been losing its share of Global GDP (-20%).

    I believe the greatest confusion on the tariff issue is semantical. The Left is a master of deception. Always has been. Keynes was a communist. US treasurer Harry Dexter was a USSR spy and FDR was a Progressive radical. Their globalist system of socialist trade (GATT) became US policy in 1946. They called it “free trade” meaning free of tariffs. It never has been free market capitalism, nor was it intended to be.

    So when guys like Ben come along and hear “free trade” vrs tariff trade, they naturally relate that to capitalism vrs socialism, which is entirely backwards. A nation’s freedom to trade means that it can use any protectionist measures that it desires and the other nation trading with them can do the same. Likewise, if they mutually agree to no protectionism, so be it. Only a buyer and seller have that absolute freedom of negotiation within a free market. Tariff “free trade” is entirely different than “free trade.” The first is regulated the second is not.

    The other issue most conservatives get tripped up on is the belief that they have a right to trade with another nation. This is not the case for multiple reasons. In North Korea, none of us have any rights. Our property would be confiscated and person subjugated. Free market capitalism exists only in a nation’s economy and only for that nation’s citizens. Where different nation’s share similar laws and economies, they can come close to free trade, but only in the merging of economies and governments, can true free trade exist. This is called the New World Order or the global economy and is what FDR and his Marxist cronies were attempting to achieve; A one world nation economy ruled by the global elite.

  • Sorry Spencer, but the sophistry is your own. Your first error is treating America and every other country like a monolith unto itself. You think in terms of countries rather than people. You then assume America has comparative advantage rather than people. This is the problem with people like yourself who have such narrow views. You also then engage in another fallacy of assuming that the reasons American industry is moving abroad (some is, some isn’t) is because of free trade rather than terrible political roadblocks. It’s comical that you don’t mention that even once and instead blame the boogeyman of “free trade.”
    Your example of Athens and Sparta also misses some critical points. Yes, these countries were richer with those innovations but the fact that seems to escape you is that they’d be even richer had they traded. Countries are not some static pieces that remain stagnant for all eternity. They change. Their industries change. The people change. What they can produce better and cheaper than others changes. What you also fail to realize is that trade IS innovation!! Innovation often, and typically, leads to a decrease in the need for manpower. What is the difference in the home country if the reduction, domestically, in manpower comes from an innovation or from trade? There is none. Innovations in agriculture lead to huge job losses in this industry. So what? Do we have FAR fewer jobs today than in the past? No. We have many more. Why? Because those job losses freed labor for more productive endeavors. If everyone was still employed in agriculture we’d be far worse off.

    • JoeD, you’re right — prosperity comes with free trade, that’s the basic principle of free market economics. Innovation occurs only when people have the extra time, capital, and freedom. I’m saddened by the ad hominem attacks against Ben Shapiro, and by how many people nominally on the free market side never got the memo from von Mises, Friedman, Hazlitt, Sowell, and Williams, to name just a few, showing why tariffs are not good for the economy.

      • There is no such thing as free trade… yet you keep using that term as if it is real.

        WTO regulates US and World trade. WTO is despotic global socialism.

        Globally free trade exists only in absract theory. WTO is big beuracratic international government regulatory trade, not free trade, not even remotely close.

    • Economies are monolithic. Each has it’s own unique dynamics. They are mostly incompatable. The more compatible the nation’s, the more free the trade can be without adverse effects.

      To merge all the nation’s economies, is to create a new world economy/ government/ nation.

      In what free market does government force individuals into collectivism? Communist markets, and they are not free. Nations economies must remain separate, free and sovereign for a global free market to exist.

  • “Spencer P. Morrison is a law student, writer, and author”

    Then proceeds to tell us why no one should listen to Spencer P. Morrison on anything but law, writing, and authorship.

    Ever heard of the fallacy of the argument from authority? Well, now’s a good time to look it up. First off, Ben may not be an expert in economics, but neither are you. In fact I’m nor sure where your expertise lies but it certainly isn’t in logic and/or reason. Problem is, of course, that economists ARE experts in the area of economics, and they, by a LARGE margin, agree with Ben. But you’ll just dismiss them in your stupid rant because they don’t agree with you… you know, a guy who isn’t an expert on economics, who tells us to listen to experts, but then dismisses them when they disagree with him. You’re stone cold stupid, Spencer. Stone cold.

    “For example, where do we draw the line between politics and economics? Can we even make a valid distinction between the two? ”

    Yes, we can, and that’s why there’s politics and economics. Neither one has anything to do with the other. You’d know that if you ever bothered to study even the smallest amount of economics. But then you get your economics from the talking heads in the media, I’m sure.

    • From the sounds of it you are not an economist either…..

      So how do you know who’s right?

  • Free traders conflate national citizenship with global citizenship. We are citizens of nations, not of world government. The world economy is an economy of nations not citizens. The citizens of the United States have rights only with the USA and our economy.

    Those that seek one world economy (free trade) also seek one world government. I say America first again. Marxist tariff “free trade” GATT>WTO was created in 1945 by FDR, Keynes and Dexter, all communists. The goal was one world economy and one world government.

    Tariffs, not income tax… That’s the constitutional trade of America’s founding fathers. It is capitalism and free markets for nations in the global economy.

  • Vox Day has TWICE debated free trade, once with Bob Murphy, and again with a Prof. of economics.

    Ben Shapiro is AFRAID to debate Vox Day.

    You should ask/shame him in to explain why he is afraid or just go debate him.

    Or you can debate.

    Or we can replace him with an H1B or just outsource his entire site to Bangalore. It might improve the level of intellect.

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