The political brilliance of Donald Trump's protectionism

The real case for the policy can be found in a vision of the common good that goes beyond narrowly economic considerations to encompass a more comprehensive view of what enables a human being to thrive — including family, leisure, physical activities, hobbies, civic engagement, and other forms of communal interactions outside of the economic imperatives of the workplace.

Protectionism is most defensible in identical terms — as a means of tempering the drive toward ever-greater economic efficiency in the name of improvements in overall quality of life. It does so, in concrete terms, by using an array of incentives (including punitive taxes, regulations, and, in Trump’s case, presidential browbeating via Twitter) to get businesses to bring extra-economic considerations to bear on their decisions about when and how to downsize, lay off workers, outsource jobs, and make other communally disruptive changes.

As a neoliberal myself, I worry that these taxes, regulations, and effusions of verbal abuse from the president of the United States will make the American economy increasingly sclerotic over time. French workers might enjoy more benefits than American workers, but they also endure an economy that produces so few jobs that the unemployment rate has averaged 9.26 percent over the past 20 years. It’s hard to see how that could be considered an improvement over the American status quo.

But doing nothing, or just a little more of what we’ve been doing for the better part of the past four decades, simply isn’t acceptable.

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