[Update: Tim Boyd provides his own response.]
I submitted a rather lengthy response to his column. It may take a while for The Hustler to post it, so I’ve copied it here below the fold…
[Redacted’s]’s columns are often marked by specious logic and pernicious nationalism, but this week’s is particularly egregious. I’ll limit my response to a few key points.
His fear of a loss of sovereignty to the WTO reflects a common misunderstanding of the organization. The WTO as such has no sovereignty and serves only as a forum for settling disputes among trading nations; it cannot compel them to drop their tariffs or lower their subsidies. As a member, the United States remains free to enact whatever foolish trade polices the [redacteds] of the world suggest; the WTO ensures only that our trading partners will not retaliate in kind until after a lengthy process of negotiation and review. In other words, mercantilist trade wars are still depressingly common. They’re just not as capricious as they were before.
[Rdacted] points to the transformation of the Common Market into the European Union as an alarming precedent for global government. But that change involved national debates about new treaties that reflected the economics, politics, and culture of the region. A similar but much more difficult process would have to occur before the U.S. and other nations could possibly join into a transnational empire. There are many problems in the world worth worrying about today — a global coup staged by free market economists isn’t one of them.
Mr. [redacted]’s excessive skepticism of global institutions is more than equaled by his lamentable faith in our national government. He speaks of protectionist policies as if they represented the will of the American people and our choice of destiny. In reality, such policies are almost always designed for the good of some citizens at the expense of everyone else. Politicians learned long ago the strategy of “concentrate benefits, diffuse costs.” Thus they approve subsidies and tariffs that confer huge benefits on the lucky few in an affected industry while imposing tiny individual costs on the millions of American consumers and businessmen who face higher prices and diminished choices. And those tiny costs add up, creating deadweight losses that hold our economy down.
Unfortunately, the cost of our wasteful protectionism does not stay contained within our borders. It extends to the developing world, where struggling workers are kept in poverty by the duties we impose on the products they create. Perhaps I’d be more sympathetic to Mr. [redacted]’s arguments if he showed as much concern for the approximately one billion people living on less than $1 a day as he does for American computer programmers who can no longer command the premium salaries they did in the 1990s.
Yet what disturbs me most about Mr. [redacted]’s column is his collectivist nationalism. In his mind, we are either Americans or we are “the assets of a transnational trading block.” Personally, I’m glad to be both an American and a citizen of the world. I woke up this morning in a bed designed by a Swedish furniture company. I then got dressed in inexpensive clothes that I suspect were imported from Asia or South America, but being in a public place at the moment I can’t take them off to check the tags. I next went to work and made espresso from beans grown in India, roasted in California, and finally brewed on a machine manufactured (yes, manufactured!) in Seattle. While there I played a CD recorded in Britain by a singer who grew up in the former USSR. Afterwards I picked up lunch from a nearby Thai restaurant opened a few months ago by an immigrant family. I enjoyed it with a can of Coca-Cola made with high-fructose corn syrup provided by American farmers; I would have preferred that it were sweetened by pure cane sugar imported from Mozambique, but protectionist handouts for the U.S. corn and sugar industries deny me the pleasure. I sit now at an off-brand computer assembled from parts made all over the globe running software developed by a U.S. company. I’m not a world traveling jetsetter, but with just a few moments reflection I can see how global trade has enriched my daily life in countless ways, both cultural and economic. I suspect that most Americans could do the same.
Of course, some people are truly hurt by the transition to a global economy. We should be cognizant of their needs and, if appropriate, compensate them for their losses. But closing ourselves off from the world would be throwing a very precious baby out with the bathwater. To turn our backs on trade for bad economic reasons would be lamentable. To constrain our pursuits of happiness to appease a misplaced sense of nationalism and collective identity would be even worse. It would be — dare I say it? — un-American.