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Protectionist Myths

NEW YORK – At a debate in New York last year entitled “Buy American/Hire American Policies Will Backfire,” with hundreds of people in attendance, my team of three free-trade proponents took on a trio of protectionists who are often in the public eye. We expected that we would lose the final audience vote by 55% to 45%. As it happened, we wiped the floor with them, winning by an unprecedented margin of 80% to 20%. The feedback from several voters was that we had won handily because we had the “arguments and the evidence,” whereas our opponents had “assertions and invective.”

Evidently, the pessimism and despair that often overwhelms free traders today is unwarranted. The arguments of protectionists, new and old, are just so many myths that can be successfully challenged. Consider some of the most egregious examples.

Myth 1: “The cost of protection and its flipside, gains from trade, are negligible.”

This means, of course, that if protectionism is politically convenient, you need not shed tears over harming the country by surrendering to it, an attitude that many Democrats in the United States find convenient to adopt.