Religion & Liberty Online

A trade ‘war’ preemptive strike

Over at Providence today, I say a bit about the Trump administration’s trade policy as well as the President’s rhetoric. Here’s a snip:

A sober defense of free trade aspires toward freer and freer exchange, even while it recognizes the necessities of incremental improvements and the messiness of politics. President Trump’s tirades against free trade are instructive here. At some level his pronouncements capture an element that free traders have tended to overlook: there are economic costs of globalization that are unequally borne by a subset of the national citizenry. So too are there cultural, social, and spiritual consequences, which range from great to galling.

Listening to some of the coverage in recent weeks about the threatened tariffs, it seems worth noting that a trade ‘war’ is pretty different from an actual war, to such an extent that it might be worth retiring the phrase ‘trade war.’ The dynamics between trade and war, protectionism and peace, are well worth considering too. It was a maxim of twentieth-century foreign policy that “If soldiers are not to cross international boundaries on missions of war, goods must cross them on missions of peace.”

Things move quickly in 2018, and in the few days since I originally drafted “Trump’s Trade Tirades” in the wake of the G7 summit there have been new threats and counter-threats, including tariffs to the tune of $200 billion on Chinese imports to the US and $3.2 billion on US goods going to the EU. The NYT has a handy reference to keep track of all the back and forth.

And speaking of the Times, today’s edition carries a powerful argument for a preemptive strike in the looming trade war: drop all tariffs. As Veronique de Rugy puts it, “By lowering its trade barriers, a government enriches its citizens regardless of the policies implemented by foreign governments.” Consider it the foreign policy equivalent of heaping burning coals on the head of one’s enemies. From a purely self-serving conception, protectionism makes a country weaker in the longer-term as it is artificially exempted from competition. Protectionism makes a people weaker, not stronger, stupider, not smarter, and more importantly, more selfish and less loving.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.