Protectionism on the Rise?

It seems support for free trade is on the decline:

As the 2008 presidential election approaches, anti-trade sentiment is percolating across America. It is particularly strong in places like Ohio, where foreign competition has decimated jobs. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted earlier this month found that 60% of voters nationwide agreed with the statement that “foreign trade has been bad for the U.S. economy.”

This is bad news for free traders and, I would argue, our country in general. Free trade has allowed Americans to acquire more goods and services at prices lower than would otherwise be imaginable. Personal choices have been maximized, which means more liberty. Any economist worth his salt will tell you that free trade is good for everybody, yet somehow many Americans don’t get it.

Bryan Caplan argues in The Myth of the Rational Voter that people have built in biases against things foreign – foreign made goods and immigrants. That is certainly a partial explanation.

Another reason is simple resistance to change. “Made in America” is becoming a thing of the past. Factories have closed down as companies have outsourced to India. In many ways this is progress, but progress has costs. Technology is advancing more rapidly than at any other time in human history. But some voters haven’t benefited much from this, don’t want to pay for progress.

We are already seeing the effects of this anti-free trade sentiment. More and more Democrats are embracing protectionism. But it’s not just the left that’s responding. Republican candidates Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, and Tom Tancredo are also openly protectionist (not to mention anti-immigration).

Unfortunately, with 60% of American supporting protectionist policies, we will likely continue to see it being embraced by our political leaders.

UPDATE: This post is taking part in the Beltway Traffic Jam.

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