There is a certain species of policy analysis which exhibits many of the symptoms which are commonly found among high-functioning autistic people. Among these symptoms are an inability to understand context, a troubling need for routines, an obsession with particular topics, difficulty with abstract thinking, difficulty in understanding other perspectives, a lack of empathy, an inability to process social cues, repetitive use of set phrases, and an inability to identify or think about groups or shared interests. Analysis that suffers from some (or even all) of these shortcomings can be found all over the political spectrum, but it seems to come disproportionately from libertarian thinkers.

The rise of Donald Trump has brought a protectionist view of trade policy back to the forefront for the first time in decades. Naturally, this gives libertarians pause, as protectionism violates individual liberties, is economically inefficient, and gives more money and power to the state. In a textbook-style vacuum, free trade is both more libertarian and more beneficial than protectionism. But to stop there and fail to address the relevant current conditions would be politically autistic by way of context denial. Thus, it is necessary to examine how protectionist policies can make sense in certain contexts, as well as the problems with supporting a policy of free trade in all circumstances.

On January 26, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer floated the idea of a 20 percent import tariff on goods coming from Mexico as a means of funding a border wall. This prompted outrage from the establishment media, along with claims and analysis showing that Americans would pay the tariff rather than Mexico because Mexican products would be more expensive for American consumers as a result. This would be true if all else were equal, but this is not the case.

The Context

Mexico already has import tariffs which can be as high as 140.4 percent and average 13.97 percent. For Mexico to tariff US goods while the US does not tariff Mexican goods puts American companies at a disadvantage. While the libertarian may note that smuggling to evade the tariff would be a morally acceptable response, this is not feasible on the level necessary to conduct a national economy. Revolution to abolish the governments that impose the tariffs would also be morally acceptable, but this is likewise unfeasible, at least for the immediate future. Eliminating government interference in the economy that makes it harder to do business domestically is another option which is better than protective tariffs, but doing so to the extent and with the quickness which would be necessary is unlikely. The next best option, then, is for the US government to respond with an equivalent counter-tariff to attempt to even out the discrepancies caused by another state’s tariffs, with an aim toward negotiating abolition of the tariff on both sides. Given that 81.2 percent of Mexican exports for a worth of $309.2 billion go to the United States and 15.7 percent of US exports for $236.4 billion go to Mexico, the threat of a trade war clearly gives leverage to the United States. Peter Navarro, who heads the White House National Trade Council, said as much to CNNMoney:

“The tariff is not an end game, it’s a strategy…to renegotiate trade deals. Tariffs wouldn’t put U.S. jobs at risk.”

It is important to remember that much like nuclear weapons, the primary purpose of tariffs is not to be directly utilized, but to alter the behavior of other states by serving as a deterrent. The threat of a trade war by way of tariffs and counter-tariffs helps to keep the economic peace, just as peace through mutually assured destruction does with nuclear weapons. A response to another nation’s tariff to gain leverage against it is the secondary purpose, as explained earlier. Those who fail to account for this are exhibiting political autism by engaging in context denial.

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com