The case for Trump's tariffs and "America First" economics

Free-traders are not indifferent to national security nor blind to the benefits a nation derives from having a middle class. But the priority of goods is different: Free-traders tend to believe that only by making economic efficiency the supreme goal of public policy can those other ends be achieved. Division of labor produces greater wealth, and so free trade makes everyone better off, with the harm to those whose manufacturing jobs are lost outweighed by the good that comes from, say, cheaper flat-screen televisions. Dollars decide. The figures are the outward and visible signs of the fundamental economic truth.

The middle class, by this reckoning, must take care of itself, finding new ways to make a living if the factories close. With more wealth available in the aggregate, thanks to the efficiencies of trade and specialization, some happy outcome is sure to materialize. If we cannot say what it is, that only means that spontaneous order has a pleasant surprise in store for us.

As for national security, exceptions might have to be made; even The Wall Street Journal has recently editorialized against the takeover of the United States communications chip manufacturer Qualcomm by the Singapore-based Broadcom on national-security grounds. But free-trade ideologues say exceptions should be made only case by case, with the benefit of the doubt falling on the side of trade and foreign deals.