Economists are famous for disagreeing among themselves. Yet on the subject of free trade, economic opinion speaks almost with one voice. In a recent survey, 87.5 percent of PhD members of the American Economic Association agreed that “the U.S. should eliminate remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade.”
As Paul Krugman (not exactly a proponent of laissez-faire) has stated, “if there were an Economist’s Creed, it would surely contain the affirmations ‘I understand the Principle of Comparative Advantage’ and ‘I advocate Free Trade’.”
Indeed. Since the days of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, economists have been tireless in demonstrating the role free trade plays in promoting prosperity and harmony for all nations.
Yet the economic consensus in favor of free trade has not always been heeded. Still, it has led to a pronounced reduction in tariffs over the last two centuries. Recently, however, there has been a growing trend among environmentalists to use the tools of protectionism as a means of limiting energy production.
If successful, these efforts could not only threaten some of America’s core industries, but also risk sparking retaliation that could unravel much of the progress made on this front in the last several decades.