Charting a Path Between Protectionism and Globalism
The new coronavirus has challenged many long-held assumptions. In the coming months and years, the United States will need to reexamine conventional wisdom in business, medicine, technology, risk management, and many other fields. This should also be a moment for renewed discussions—and, hopefully, a stronger national consensus—about the future of U.S. trade policy.
That debate should start with a fundamental question: What should the objective of trade policy be? Some view trade through the lens of foreign policy, arguing that tariffs should be lowered or raised in order to achieve geopolitical goals. Others view trade strictly through the lens of economic efficiency, contending that the sole objective of trade policy should be to maximize overall output. But what most Americans want is something else: a trade policy that supports the kind of society they want to live in. To that end, the right policy is one that makes it possible for most citizens, including those without college educations, to access the middle class through stable, well-paying jobs.
That is precisely the approach the Trump administration is taking. It has broken with the orthodoxies of free-trade religion at times, but contrary to what critics have charged, it has not embraced protectionism and autarky. Instead, it has sought to balance the benefits of trade liberalization with policies that prioritize the dignity of work.
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