Protectionism: A Peacetime 'Blockade' US Doesn't Need

Article excerpt

As our trade deficit continues to rise to new heights, Americans can anticipate increased pressures for "protecting" American business and labor by restricting imports. Because of its apparent simplicity, the protectionist approach always has its followers. However, given the widespread weakness in the global economy, there is special reason for opposing trade restraints.

The United States is both the world's largest exporter and its largest importer. Many American businesses and their employees have a powerful and direct stake in healthy, expanding international commerce. This is especially true in the case of our key high-tech industries, which export far more than they import. Any reasonable analysis would show that, on balance, the US benefits from the competitive forces of an open economy. American consumers enjoy lower prices as a result of the global marketplace. However, many US companies benefit from the lower costs of using imported components. Often, that cost differential is essential in maintaining the international competitiveness of American producers.

Of course, it is unreasonable to expect that any set of economic policies will only generate winners and no losers. Adoption of a protectionist strategy would mean jeopardizing the benefits to the far more than 90 percent of our people who are participating in the national prosperity in a misguided effort to respond to the concerns of the far less than 10 percent who are not. Americans should be concerned over jobs lost when factories close down. Public policy shouldn't ignore the losers in economic change: A rising tide does not lift all boats. The social safety net available to Americans in financial distress should be, and is, very substantial - unemployment compensation, food stamps, and job training. It is sad that so many advocates of protectionism ignore the vital role of training and education in helping people adjust successfully to an increasingly global economy. Advocates of trade restrictions like to cite the "infant industry" argument. …