The Conservative Confusion on Globalization

| Mar 16, 2022

Gradually, conservatives are recognizing the enormity of their error in embracing a strategy of free trade and globalization after the Cold War’s end. The theory held that trade would help to spread liberal democracy around the world, creating an ever-larger free market to fuel rising prosperity. “No nation on Earth has discovered a way to import the world’s goods and services while stopping foreign ideas at the border,” exuded President George H. W. Bush at a Yale University commencement ceremony in 1991. “What some call globalization is in fact the triumph of human liberty across national borders,” said his son a decade later.

In practice, though, globalization has meant subverting America’s relatively free market for the sake of integration with other markets abroad. A “free-trade agreement” is not the removal of government interference but rather the intensively lobbied creation of endless new legal requirements. “Normal trade relations” with China means that what is “normal” in China becomes “normal” for American businesses as well: investments dictated by the economic distortions and political pressure of an authoritarian, communist regime. But the only way to keep the distortions of foreign markets out of the domestic one is to write even more rules.

Writing earlier this week in National ReviewDominic Pino found himself caught between this particular rock and hard place. On one hand, he acknowledges that “borders are meaningful and important, and arch-globalists who want to erase them are misguided.” On the other hand, he worries that “the moment you give the government power to set a boundary in the market is the same moment that interest groups you hadn’t even heard of before will be lining up to tell you where to draw it.” What to do?

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Oren Cass is the executive director at American Compass.