Paul Lachine

Le mythe d’un protectionnisme émergent

CAMBRIDGE – Parmi toutes les voix qui se sont élevées pendant la crise financière, une voix a été particulièrement discrète : celle des avocats du protectionnisme. En dépit de la levée de boucliers contre d’éventuelles  mesures protectionnistes, les gouvernements n’ont en fait imposé que de rares limitations sur les importations. A vrai dire, l’économie mondiale est aujourd’hui aussi ouverte qu’elle l’était avant la crise.

Normalement, le protectionnisme s’épanouit dans les périodes de difficultés économiques. Confrontés au ralentissement de l’économie et à la hausse du chômage, les gouvernements sont en général plus enclins à écouter les groupes de pression nationaux qu’à honorer leurs engagements internationaux.

Comme John Maynard Keynes l’avait noté, les restrictions commerciales peuvent protéger ou générer de l’emploi lors d’une récession. Mais une approche qui peut paraître avantageuse pour un pays unique dans des conditions extrêmes peut se révéler très dommageable pour l’économie mondiale. Lorsque tous les pays élèvent des barrières commerciales, le volume des échanges s’effondre. Personne n’y gagne. C’est pour cette raison que la désastreuse politique du chacun pour soi dans les années 1930 a sérieusement aggravé la Grande Dépression.

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