Actually, Pat, it is PROTECTIONISM that does all those things: 1) Being protected from competiton with tariffs or quotas causes the “protected” industry to become lazy and lethargic; why work so hard if there’s no competition? 2) Businesses that accept corporate welfare in the form of protectionism become, effectively, wards of the state every bit as much as any welfare mother. Once a business accepts such subsidies, it no longer can legitimately complain about or oppose other prosperity-destroying regulations or taxes. It does not engage in free speech for fear of losing its subsidy. It loses all of its independence, in other words. ~Thomas DiLorenzo, LewRockwell.com

Hat tip to Michael Dougherty.

Thomas DiLorenzo, known and respected by many traditional conservatives as a very competent historian of the War of Secession and Lincoln and author of The Real Lincoln, has decided to have a new war over tariffs with Mr. Buchanan. You know the libertarian drill: whine about government interference in the market and call your opponent ignorant. Prof. DiLorenzo throws a fit when Mr. Buchanan claims, using the imagery of a man destroyed by drink, that free trade makes nations dependent and weak and ultimately leads to their ruin. DiLorenzo is the historian, is he not? Why then is it that it is Mr. Buchanan who makes the cogent historical argument that our protective tariffs coincided with and fostered American industry, and it is DiLorenzo who seems to be throwing the “tantrum”?

Later in Mr. Buchanan’s article, which is not “recent” (it is dated Aug. 11, 2005), as DiLorenzo claims, and to which DiLorenzo provides no link, there is this important section:

But in the Clinton-Bush free-trade era, Alexander Hamilton is derided as a “protectionist.” Woodrow Wilson’s free-trade dogma is gospel. Result: our trade surpluses have vanished, our deficits have exploded, our self-sufficiency has been lost, our sovereignty has been diminished, and an industrial base that was the envy of mankind has been gutted.

And for what? All that junk down at the mall? What do we have now that we did not have before we submitted to this cult of free trade? ~Pat Buchanan

Perhaps I’ve missed where Mr. Buchanan has made an error–do we, in fact, have enormous trade surpluses and is our manufacturing sector growing stronger daily? “All that junk down at the mall” (or at the superstores) is exactly what an economic regime dedicated strictly to commerce and “service” jobs provides. Note that DiLorenzo makes no claim that a free trade regime can secure a country’s manufacturing base, because he knows he would be easily ridiculed with the present reality of our miserable manufacturing sector. We are supposed to be satisfied with a regime that leaves us dependent on the productivity of other nations for all finished and manufactured goods, which in the real world where nations clash and seek advantage against one another leaves our country vulnerable to economic extortion, deprives us of our freedom of action in international relations and steals our initiative in foreign affairs.

The free trade ideal might be summed up like this: Sell American independence to the lowest bidder, as long as we can have our Wal-Marts. The question between free trade and protection is not a question, ultimately, of economics alone, but of the kind of America that should exist. On the one side, there is a nation of dilapidated factories, shuttered plants and collapsing small towns shivering in the shadows of anti-social, dehumanising megalopoleis, while our people are awash in the latest imported vanities. On other side, there is the nation that might not necessarily have as much in sheer quantity but can rely on a steady level of productivity that meets the needs of our people, rather than being egged on to ever greater consumption and materialist desire for trivial things. Indeed, the cultural and spiritual fruits of a free trade regime are perhaps the most abhorrent and most rotten of all.

One could advance a radically different sort of argument against protectionism, the sort advanced by the old Jeffersonians. A tariff or high tariff regime can be very inimical to agricultural sectors, which is one reason why the historically predominantly agricultural South and West have traditionally supported the party opposed to tariffs. They opposed high tariffs not because it was destructive of an industrial economy, but exactly because they knew it was not. They did not want a world of cities, industry and “bank rule,” and their vision for America would assuredly have been better (for one, we could never have gone abroad in search of monsters to destroy if we had not become such an industrial power), but once we became a thoroughly industrial nation we no longer had the option of choosing the Jeffersonians’ vision. We now have the choice of continuing as the world’s consumerist dumping ground amid diminishing quality of employment and eventually diminishing standards of living, or we can reclaim some measure of economic self-determination, so to speak, and break the chains of commercial dependence on the production of nations that are, quite naturally, using all their economic leverage to gain as much for themselves at our expense as they can.

The Jeffersonian understanding of tariffs then, oddly enough, vindicates the Hamiltonian Mr. Buchanan today. In an increasingly industrialising world, that has become more, not less, true. When Western industrial nations were still the only game in town, they could afford to allow greater freedom to market forces in international trade. Now that the number of competitors has increased, the luxury we once had to enjoy healthy industrial production and a free flow of commercial goods has diminished considerably. We can choose greater national self-sufficiency, or we can choose the “junk down at the mall.” Or we can, like DiLorenzo, shout idiotic abuse at the people alerting us to the serious choice at hand.