Paul Lachine

The Myth of Rising Protectionism

There was a dog that didn’t bark during the financial crisis: the growing protectionist threat. Despite much hue and cry about it, governments have in fact imposed remarkably few trade barriers on imports, and the world economy remains as open as it was before the crisis struck.

CAMBRIDGE – There was a dog that didn’t bark during the financial crisis: protectionism. Despite much hue and cry about it, governments have in fact imposed remarkably few trade barriers on imports. Indeed, the world economy remains as open as it was before the crisis struck.

Protectionism normally thrives in times of economic peril. Confronted by economic decline and rising unemployment, governments are much more likely to pay attention to domestic pressure groups than to upholding their international obligations.

As John Maynard Keynes recognized, trade restrictions can protect or generate employment during economic recessions. But what may be desirable under extreme conditions for a single country can be highly detrimental to the world economy. When everyone raises trade barriers, the volume of trade collapses. No one wins. That is why the disastrous free-for-all in trade policy during the 1930’s greatly aggravated the Great Depression.

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