Originally posted October 23, 2018.
In a winding piece in The New York Times, while hammering away at President Trump and the right-wing of politics in general, Quinn Slobodian manages to arrive at one salient point, that Donald Trump and his administration are not actually interested in 1930s style self-sufficiency, but instead are aiming to achieve trade fairness.
Like Ronald Reagan before him, President Trump is targeting a nation that already isn’t playing fair, China. Restrictions in China prevent American companies from competing freely in the country, yet America’s open economy allows the Chinese much more lenient terms for business. That imbalance has gone on too long, and the Trump administration is the first to stand up and address it. Slobodian writes:
Commentators lament that Mr. Trump is tearing up “the rules America itself created more than 80 years ago” and conjure up visions of the 1930s, when nations and empires dreamed of total self-sufficiency. Yet they overlook the fact that the actions of the president and his influential trade representative Robert Lighthizer betray no desire to withdraw from the world market.
Quite the opposite. The express effort is to use unilateral action to bully other countries, China in particular, into better market access for American products. The point of comparison is not the dreams of economic self-sufficiency of the 1930s but Ronald Reagan’s assault on Japanese competition in the 1980s. “The basic philosophy that we have is that we want free trade without barriers,” Mr. Lighthizer explained to Congress in August.