Strong Support for Free Trade Among Economists … and the American Public

By at 27 August, 2019, 9:23 pm

by Raymond J. Keating-

The fact that economists overwhelmingly agree that free trade is an economic plus is not really news. It’s long been one of the very few issues upon which most economists agree. Indeed, you have to work pretty hard to find an economist who actually favors protectionism.

Survey after survey makes clear the agreement on free trade among economists. For example, a 2009 American Institute of Economic Research survey reported that 83 percent of economists agreed that the U.S. should eliminate its remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade, and a University of Chicago October 2016 survey found that 100 percent of economists opposed the idea of imposing tariffs to “protect” U.S. production.

Indeed, economists have long favored free trade and opposed protectionism, and as SBE Council summed up in a 2016 report on free trade vs. protectionism:

“In the end, free trade reduces costs through the removal of trade barriers (such as tariffs and quotas); expands choices for consumers; keeps U.S. firms competitive; and opens new markets and opportunities for U.S. goods and services. Meanwhile, protectionism raises prices and limits choices for consumers; shields U.S. companies from competition – creating an environment of reduced efficiency, fewer innovations and inventions, and lower quality – and closes off international opportunities for U.S. entrepreneurs and businesses as other nations retaliate, resulting in slower economic growth and fewer jobs.”

The American Public Agrees

What’s nice to see is growing agreement among the American public that free trade is a positive. Polls of Americans’ views on trade have offered varying results over the years depending on when the poll was taken and the economic circumstances at the time.

But a new poll of adults released by NBC/The Wall Street Journal reported that 64 percent of Americans view free trade as “good” for America vs. 27 percent viewing it as “bad.” That 64 percent was up from 57 percent in the same poll taken in April 2017, as well as up in polls of registered voters taken in July 2016, with 55 percent saying free trade was good, and in December 2015, when 51 percent said good.

This is a welcome trend on Americans’ views on trade. Let’s hope that these views, coupled with the overwhelming affirmation among economists in favor of free trade since Adam Smith wrote An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776, will spur the Trump administration to step back from higher tariffs and trade wars, and return the U.S. to its traditional global leadership role in advancing free trade.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

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