So which is it, Pat? Is trade good for a nation, or not?
The other day, he was telling us in nearly every press release that
trade was destroying our country. The only way to save America was to
curb trade or shut it down. Now he tells us the U.S. is guilty of
slaughtering foreign innocents by failing to trade with their countries.
This doesn’t parse; as William Anderson pointed out, tariffs are sanctions.
One way to deal with protectionism of the Buchanan variety is the
absurdum. If protectionism is so great, and “dependence” on
foreigner trade so
dangerous and impoverishing, national autarky (self sufficiency) must be
better. The most prosperous societies of all would be those with no
trade with the outside world. If everyone imposed sanctions on a
country, the place would boom.
Of course, this is nonsense. Everyone recognizes that sanctions harm
countries. The people of Cuba, Iraq, Iran, Serbia, and the other
countries hated by the State Department suffer not only from their own
governments, but also from U.S., U.N., and Nato sanctions that prohibit
them from being part of the international economy. Sanctions are not a
blessing, as protectionist theory would
implicitly have it, but a curse. They are also an act of war.
So it is surprising to see Pat Buchanan speak out passionately, and
wholly correctly, against U.S. sanctions. They “may fairly be called
America’s silent weapon of mass destruction whose victims are almost
always the weak, the sick, the women, and the young,” he said. He went
on to point out that sanctions directly attack civilians, in direct
contradiction to Christian just war doctrine, which forbids acts of
vengeance against non-combatants.
But acts of vengeance are exactly what are being imposed by the U.S.
on countries around the world. Pat is right to decry this. But it is
strange that he is the one to do so. No politician since World War II
has made a greater fuss about the need for domestic industrial
protection. Not even politicos directly in the pocket of big labor try
to weave a full-blown political philosophy out of protectionism. But
that is precisely what Pat has done, beginning seven years ago and
His 1998 book, “The Great Betrayal,” says that “free trade theory is
first cousin to socialism and Marxism.” He reconstructs intellectual
history to make demons out of the classical liberals who worked for the
repeal of Britain’s corn laws, which prohibited the import of
inexpensive food to prop up well-connected agricultural interests. Pat
celebrates the statist and anti-consumer
mercantilist tradition in American political history from Alexander
Hamilton to George Meany.
In opposition to free trade, he upholds the ideal of “national
self-sufficiency.” As a step in that direction, he advocates
across-the-board tariffs and a wage-parity tariff that would shut out
virtually all products from the developing world. In a word, he
advocates sanctions, both against other countries and against ourselves.
He also denounces the critics of sanctions against the Soviet Union as
unpatriotic, and “the American hirelings of Japan” who complained about
sanctions against the Toshiba Corp. He blasts those who resisted the
absurd 1996 campaign to restrict trade with China; free traders are “so
‘hooked’ on their China trade that they can no longer see the national
What is the national interest? It is producing and consuming right
here in the good ol’ USA, says Pat, sounding like a labor union boss. In
fact, he also tells us that unions aren’t so bad after all; they only
want what we all should want — Economic separation from the world.
If you worry about consumers paying excessive prices for goods at
home, or the fate of businesses who depend on imports, or the
deprivation of foreign peoples shut out of the market economy, you are a
traitor who is not putting America First. (Incidentally, the “America
First” political slogan he’s warped was not about trade protection. It
was about staying out of war.)
Pat’s turn towards protectionism was a shock to those who got behind
his 1992 bid, when he opposed Bush’s war and Bush’s taxes. But midway
through the campaign, it seemed, Pat got confused. He came to believe
that his public support was about him, not the issues he represented. He
figured he could turn on a dime, from a pro-freedom message to a
pro-government message, and retain all his support. He went from
opposing big government to advocating the welfare
state, attacking the capitalist rich, promoting industrial policy and
He was on firm ground in fighting NAFTA and the WTO because in doing
so, he was fighting big government. But he didn’t stop there. He saw
national autarky as the ideal. So he made himself an easy target for
anyone who knew a smidgen of economics, and his support among
conservatives and libertarians began to evaporate.
Rather than rethink his position, he pushed his intellectual errors
further and further, culminating with his cringe-inducing “Great
Betrayal” book. It was indeed a great betrayal — a betrayal of the
principles behind his original political push.
Now, out of the blue, he says interfering with a country’s right to
trade is evil. Very interesting.
From listening to his speeches for the last eight years, you would
conclude that Iraq’s current predicament is the best thing that country
has going for it.
As Justin Raimondo has written, “Although its people are starving,
Iraq’s ‘balance of trade’ is in balance, and evil foreign competition
has been brought under control. After all, Iraq’s ‘native’ industries
are free to flourish, minus all that cutthroat competition from abroad.
In Iraq, under economic sanctions, we can see the end result of the
protectionist ‘ideal’: starvation.”
So, has Pat reversed himself? If so, he should go on a speaking tour
to undo the damage he’s inflicted on the nation’s intellectual life. To
replace his original, eroding support, he single-handedly convinced
millions of people, mostly serious Christians who trust his moral
instincts, to follow him down the protectionist road.
Now he wants to everyone to follow him down a new path, one in which
trade with the world is identified with economic recovery, hope,
humanitarianism, and Christian morality. That’s my road too, but it’s a
far cry from his views, articulated only the day before yesterday, in
which protection was all those things, while trade was a “Faustian
bargain,” that is, a pact with the Devil.
Let’s say U.S. sanctions against Iraq are repealed and the country
begins selling oil. Who will buy it? Americans, and they will pay lower
prices than they are paying now. That would be great for everyone
involved, as with all trade. But who would be on the stump, as in the
past, complaining about evil foreign producers dumping their products in
an attempt to destroy our patriotic domestic producers?
Who would, as so often in the past, decry the godless consumers
putting cheap car travel above the nation’s soul? Who would condemn
trade as “worshipping at the altar of the market”?
Here’s the deal: We either trade with the world or we do not. Trade
is either good for a country or it is not. By imposing sanctions against
61 countries around the world, we are either doing the right thing by
our workers, or engaging in global terrorism. So which is it, Pat?