A road to nowhere: a protectionist streak runs wide this summer, causing harm long after election season is over.

Author:Hood, John


Whether you think of yourself as a Democrat, a Republican or some other political animal, chances are you don't feel too good about the outcome of the presidential primaries. The candidates who received the most votes during the seemingly endless process, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, happen to be the least-popular, least-trusted nominees that either major party has put forward in modern times.

Sorry to pour gasoline on our collective dumpster fire, but there's another outcome with potential disastrous consequences for North Carolina and the rest of the country: the longstanding political consensus in favor of free trade and open markets has been shattered. Long a retrograde protectionist on such matters, Trump ended up pulling other Republicans in his direction--toward skepticism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as well as explicit or tacit support for raising the price of imported goods.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton began the race in 2015 as a champion of the Obama administration's TPP, which she called the "gold standard" of trade agreements, and of previous trade pacts enacted during her husband's presidency and her own tenure in the U.S. Senate. In response to the rising political fortunes of protectionist Bernie Sanders, however, Clinton began to shift her position. By late 2015, she was stating clear opposition to TPP and to similar trade deals that, she said, might adversely affect some American workers.

There has been no sudden change in basic economic principles or international commerce. America is deeply embedded in a worldwide trading system that produces goods and services through a complicated series of business relationships that moves raw materials, technology, labor and capital from country to country. Allowing individuals, companies, regions, and countries to focus on what they do best--and then exchange those goods or services for the best efforts of others--is an indispensable requirement for longterm economic growth. While robust competition inevitably results in dislocation for some workers and companies in the short run, its benefits far outweigh its costs. Punitively taxing imports and putting up trade barriers constitute an excellent plan if your goal is to crimp the current economic recovery, or perhaps even to initiate the next recession.

When it comes to trade policy, North Carolina has a great deal at stake. Although previous trade agreements have increased...

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