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Trump’s Anachronistic Trade Strategy

LONDON – Donald Trump’s ignominious executive order barring entry into the United States for refugees and others from seven predominantly Muslim countries has dominated headlines in recent weeks. But the damage done to America’s image, and to the global economy, will only be further compounded by Trump’s early decisions on trade.

In speeches and tweets, Trump has aggressively lashed out against globalization. He has appointed the famously protectionist trade litigator Robert Lighthizer to be US Trade Representative. And the other two members of his trade triumvirate – Commerce Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro – are no less protectionist than Lighthizer.

Many working- and middle-class Americans believe that free-trade agreements are why their incomes have stagnated over the past two decades. So Trump intends to provide them with “protection” by putting protectionists in charge.

But Trump and his triumvirate have misdiagnosed the problem. While globalization is an important factor in the hollowing out of the middle class, so, too, is automation. Most of Lighthizer and Ross’s business experience has been in twentieth-century industries such as steel production, which has conditioned them to pursue twentieth-century solutions for America’s twenty-first-century industrial problems.