When President Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, I was reminded of a line from George Orwell: “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”
While Orwell’s comment was focused on military and political issues of the late 1930s, my subject is economics, and to most people in my field, the benefits of an unfettered system of world trade are obvious. Any good student of Econ 101 can explain the logic.
But in light of the growing evidence of the Trump administration’s apparent disdain for free trade, from the recent tariffs, to a report recommending fresh quotas or tariffs on steel and aluminum, to its earlier rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it may be worth reviewing the theory, as well as the evidence that convinces economists that the theory is right.
The place to start is 18th-century Scotland. Adam Smith’s book “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” is often credited as the beginning of economics. The case for free trade is one of its major themes.