Err, no, sorry

This argument doesn\’t work:

America is not a free trade nation and never has been, it is the home and bastion of protectionism. It built up its industries not in competition with Britain, but with intense protection from her output.

The internal US market was by far the largest free trade area on the planet. The astonishing growth, invention and efficiency of the US economy is not an argument in favour of protectionism at all: it\’s a sterling example of the benefits of free trade in action.

Further, it\’s a bit of a mistake to think that in the late 19th, early 20th century they were sheltering that huge market behind high tariff barriers. There were indeed high  nominal tariffs, this is true, but they aren\’t the only barrier to trade. There are also transport costs to think about. And the technological revolution in shipping from 1860 ish to 1910 meant that, even as tariffs themselves rose, the actual trade barriers (tariffs plus transport costs) fell. (The figures are detailed here.)

So, no, we don\’t get to claim the US economy as proof that protectionism works.

Socialism as I understand it, is the only way to a better material existence and a more free life for all of us.

That\’s an assertion of which you\’ve offered no proof at all as yet.

7 comments on “Err, no, sorry

  1. I’m glad I got your attention at least. I can’t say I held much hope you would role over and say, “sign me up.”

    I will write a response tonight, or possible tomorrow. Needless to say, I think you’re wrong, but I can almost see where you are coming from.

    Nothing on Germany or the inviability of property rights though?

  2. Pingback: A Memorandum to Libertarians and Socialists: Part One « Left Outside

  3. “Socialism as I understand it, is the only way to a better material existence and a more free life for all of us.”

    That’s so frankly hallucinatory as to defy belief.

  4. Power and Plenty also suggested, though, that one-sided protectionism – the limitation of the import of manufactured goods, but not of raw materials – played a part in the success of Britain’s Industrial Revolution.

  5. What Peter said.

    I’ve not read the book, but it would be mad to ignore the restrictions started by Richard III on the import of woolen cloth and the promotion of British textiles.

  6. Well, steady on. I’m actually opposed to protectionism. And I’m not sure about this argument in P&P. How do we know what would have happened otherwise? Perhaps protectionism actually slowed the revolution? How could we tell?

    And to the extent it might be true, it would have been at the expense of other nations and to justify that you’d have to argue somehow that net wealth was higher like that or that the others could go to hell.

    I just wanted to make the citation of P&P more complete with respect to this debate.

  7. I’m also unsure about your claim that socialism enriches societies. It might, initially at least, be better than barking mad monarchies (Russia) or being a sort of family-run offshore whorehouse for the US Navy (Cuba). But there does seem to be a direct correlation between economic freedom and wealth.

    And both Russia and Cuba seem to have reverted to type… though in the case of Cuba the nice girls in their best frocks standing by the roadsides seem to be for the benefit of tourists rather than marines now.

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