Protectionism, Donald Trump and the Kevin Williamson Blast

It seems this blog overlaps one just published by my colleague Jeff Haymond.  But I will publish mine anyway, since it nicely supplements his.

Donald Trump has been saying quite a bit recently about the disappearance of (especially) manufacturing jobs in the South as well as the “Rust Belt,” blaming those lost jobs on the trade policies of both Democrats and “establishment” Republican politicians.  But in addition, an article appeared recently by Kevin Williamson, or at least is scheduled to appear, entitled “The Father-Fuhrer,” in the National Review.  I have not been able to read the entire article because I am too stingy to pay for it, but I have read some excerpts on it from other commentators who have.  Williamson’s thesis is that many of Trump’s supporters live in declining industrial areas, which have lost millions of jobs.  This includes both manufacturing urban areas and more rural or old suburban areas that contained factories or mines.  Williamson bluntly argues that the residents there, who seem to want protection from competition, are for the most part living on welfare and “oxycontin” (as he so delicately put it).  His advice is that those areas ought to “die” and their residents should leave (rent a U-Haul one said) and find jobs elsewhere instead or moping and complaining-and voting for Trump in the hopes that he will return their areas to their former glory.  Here is a long quote from the article:

“It [pandering to these communities] is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t. The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.

If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.  Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down.

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.  If you want to live, get out of Garbutt.”


Well, that is pretty harsh.  But I will argue it does have a certain truth to it.  Before the reader gets too worked up, I am a West Virginia native, and I have seen plenty of job loss and decline in prosperity.  That state has yet to recover since the early 1960s!  And that makes me sad.  But it also makes me a little angry.  In all those years, the state government (until very recently) has done almost nothing to ameliorate the economic disaster that was West Virginia.  The tax laws discouraged investment and business, the legal system encouraged lawsuits of anything that moved and damage awards were unseemly. The latter was directed mostly against the “big, bad capitalist” business owners.  Regulations multiplied, and as usual, were especially burdensome on all businesses, including small ones.  Unions gained a foothold and pushed up wages to untenable levels, and at the same time produced work rules that severely hurt efficiency (and raised cost).  Industry left.  It couldn’t compete and the citizens wouldn’t adjust to the changing environment.  Despite all this many people, tied to the land and their locality, remained and went on welfare programs of all sorts, state and Federal.  But they have refused to move to find better jobs—or any jobs at all.  Instead they voted to implement more of the same damaging policies.  In the meantime, they have consistently complained about the jobs that have either moved away or disappeared altogether, and when the opportunity presented itself, they have voted for protectionist candidates and policies.

The same situation can be seen throughout regions such as Appalachia—Eastern Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, parts of New York, western Pennsylvania, western Virginia, and some areas of Tennessee, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama, among others.  Old industrial cities and mining towns, largely in severe economic depression, but whose populations have remained.

The residents have found a voice in Donald Trump, collectively blaming policies that failed to “protect” them from competition, but refusing to move to find new and different jobs—as many Americans have done in the past (witness the migrations to California by the “Okies” and other Midwesterners during the Depression of the 1930s).  In the “old days” people didn’t wait around for the government to “do something.”  They did something.  And they thrived.

Richard Epstein has also contributed an article on the subject of protectionist policy.  It is the March 14, 2016 edition of Ideas, published by the Hoover Institution at Stanford, and is entitled “The Rise of American Protectionism.”  It might as well have added the word “Again,” as this idea has arisen numerous times when populist rhetoric begins to circulate.  Epstein decries the rising hostility to free trade, which is exploited by Donald Trump.   Epstein writes, in addressing the problem, that


“One answer is that things have not gone well in the United States. Standards of living have been static at best, and people feel economically insecure. In this environment, it is easy to blame the obvious culprits, like the tide of imports and the systematic movement of American jobs overseas to locations where the regulatory environment is more favorable and where the cost of labor is cheaper.”


He acknowledges these facts but adds that the populists and protectionists have missed the actual problem:


“But putting the story in this fashion conceals the key benefit of free trade. Free trade offers an uncompromising indictment of, and a powerful corrective for, America’s unsound economic policies. Private investors have been voting with their feet in response to such policies. Simply put, the reason that local businesses outsource from the United States is the same reason why foreign businesses are reluctant to expand operations here. Our regulatory and labor environment is hostile to economic growth and there are no signs of that abating anytime soon. The United States has slipped to eleventh place on the Heritage Organization’s 2016 Index of Economic Freedom. And it is not just because other nations have moved up. It is also because the steady decline in freedom and productivity inside the United States has continued apace. Ironically, the strong likelihood that the next American president will expand protectionist practices will only make matters worse: firms, both foreign and domestic, are more reluctant to invest in the United States, and the risk of a trade war by other countries such as Mexico is a live possibility, especially if Trump imposes high tariffs on automobiles made there for the American market.”


The real problem may lie in policies pursued by our governments, Federal first, but also states.  In fact, jobs have moved to states that, as Epstein puts it, “govern well.”  And where the Federal government makes life worse everywhere the jobs go to other nations or disappear.

This article is too long already so I will close with one caveat.  I support free trade, not “fair trade” in its populist sense, but in reading (or trying to read the trade agreements, such as TPP, I am a little suspicious that what is billed as a free trade agreement (good) may conceal some cronyism that artificially helps some nations at the expense of others such as the United States.  I will reserve final judgment for now, but my hope is that the Senate will actually read the agreement (am I asking too much) before voting for it.

In conclusion, Kevin Wiiliamson has a point.  He may have overstated his case a bit, but it is important in that is focuses our attention on some of the real problems that are obscured by protectionist rhetoric.

17 thoughts on “Protectionism, Donald Trump and the Kevin Williamson Blast”

  1. The truth is that many HAVE moved out of these economically depressed, if not hopeless, areas. And THAT is a key reason why these areas remained economically depressed, if not hopeless.

    The so-called “brain drain” has taken many of the best from the poorest areas, leaving little behind. At the same time, many of the the best have moved to economically thriving cities. Look at the rapid growth of cities in the South and the West over the last several decades.

    I blame state governments, and not the federal government, for many of the problems. Instead of helping the impoverished areas recreate their economies (green energy is one great way this can be done), they have generally focused on the urban areas. The rich areas get richer, and the poor areas stay poor and sometimes get poorer.

    Can’t blame that dastardly socialist/communist Obama on that, I hope.

    Imagine how bad West Virginia would be if not for the influx of federal tax dollars over the last several decades! Then again, the influx of tax dollars into Louisiana==another one of those depressed if not hopeless states–did not insulate it from the destructive effects of Bobby Jindal’s two terms, as a giant surplus went to crushing deficits, as income taxes were cut and regressive sales taxes were increased.

    So much for the positive economic effects of conservatism!

    If WV tries the same approach LA tried, I expect similar results. Charleston had better not jack up sales taxes while cutting income taxes for the wealthy. The poor in that state have suffered enough already. I trust WV will find new ways to grow the economy outside of fossil fuels (coal), since there is no real future in that kind of black gold. A proven killer, coal needs to replaced by something else. I hope WV is willing to change.

    Are you guys going to let me send something to be posted, or would posting uncomfortable truths hurt your efforts to keep your students from thinking for themselves? What ARE you afraid of? Isn’t truth a GOOD thing? :-)

    1. Jeff
      You are free to post anytime as you know. But no, not as a “Berean.” I think its pretty clear to you and our readers that you do not write from the same perspective that we are trying to bring to the table. We do like opposing views within the subjects we want to talk about, and I personally think you are adding value to the conversation ever since about Christmas when your tone changed–not the substance of your arguments, just the tone softened. So thanks for contributing.

      But you are fond of asking in bold letters for FACTS and DATA. In this post, you say, “green energy is one great way this can be done.” Can you give any examples where this is done without government subsidy, i.e., without government welfare?

      This did not conflict with my post at all; much deeper into the discussion. I agree with much as well, and think its a useful conversation to have. But we aren’t willing to have the types of conversations about the real problems anymore, precisely because of our celebrity politicians (and Trump is certainly not the first) and the current media approach to candidates. Thanks for adding.

      1. Yes, we come from different perspectives. I am a moderate independent Christian who writes from a data-driven approach, where you guys seek to promote conservative ideology at the expense, if need be, of data and reason.

        If you guys really were interested in adhering to the marquee of this blog–writing with “truth and reason”you would want your readers to hear the truth. Thanks for making it clear where you really stand.

        Why would you insist on green energy only if it could only be done now with government subsidies? The history of the fossil fuel industry consists of government subsidies. Why the special pleading?

        You DO know that, right? If not, I could recommend a history of two of the oil industry. The federal government has been hand in hand with fossil fuels for well over a century.

        A Christian who believes in stewardship above conservative ideology would consider supporting green energy, even saddled with government subsidies. Considering the deaths and sickness (human suffering!) that comes as a result of fossil-fuel caused air pollution, a position supportive of green energy should be considered truly pro-life (remember–I define “pro-life: as pro ALL life, not just unborn children).

        When Christians work against green energy, they show that they are not really concerned with human life after all.

      2. Fine. Show the green energy with subsidies. Then show your cost/benefit analysis to show that even with subsidies its worth it. I’m still going to call it crony capitalism, but go ahead and try to make a case. You continually call for data and facts and yet never offer much more than assertion.

  2. The quote from that article mad me quite angry as well. The wording was harsh, and the writer seemed to have no compassion. However, as you noted in your blog, the author has quite a lot of truth to his points. I am just wondering if within ten or twenty years will those small towns really die off.

  3. Why the outrage at the quotation “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die”?

    The quotation hints at the social Darwinism that is inevitable–yes, inevitable– when one supports a completely free market economy sans regulations.

    If one is going to rail on regulations and believe that the unfettered free market solves all problems, fine, but that makes one by definition a social Darwinist who believes that some communities, if not the people in them, deserve to die.

    An economic moderate, I argue that a market economy works far better than planned economies, but that regulations are necessary. Without government there to protect the weak from the strong, capitalism is cruel, un-Christianly cruel.

    When there are too many regulations, capitalism cannot work its (limited) magic, and all of us suffer.

    1. Jeff. I don’t disagree completely, but can you share how you know what the optimum amount of regulation is? If some is necessary, but some is too much, how do objectively know? Or do we just elect the “right” politicians and they’ll magically know?

      1. How about a try at asking a serious question, without the sarcasm?

        What do you disagree with me about?

      2. This wasn’t an attempt at sarcasm; but to show the problem with your argument. If some regulation is good, but more bad, you need to think through how you would know the “tipping point.” Generally progressives might at the abstract level agree with your argument, but assume that the tipping point is more regulation than we currently have. So more is always better. I’d like you to spell out how you’d know we have too much. And yes I’m serious.

  4. Jeff

    I find your focus on cost/benefits disturbing. We are talking about HUMAN LIFE here, remember?

    Or do you have in mind a price as to what a human life is worth, in terms of cost/benefit analysis?

    If you want to play the cost/benefit analysis game, one needs to include the lives that have been taken, and the health care costs expended, due to the emissions from fossil fuels. One NASA analysis that examined just nuclear power estimated that nuclear power alone saved almost 2,000,000 lives over a 38 year period. Deaths from coal-fired power plants were upwards of 24,000 in the US alone around ten years ago (they are in the six figures in India, I think).

    Deaths in the US are down, however, since that time, to under 10,000. Guess what was largely responsible for the decline? Hint–it was not the good graces/bleeding hearts of utility companies.

    Responsible for the decline was, drum roll, increased regulations on emissions. Yes, regulations. Regulations I assume you opposed, or would have opposed. If not you, certainly the utility companies.

    My point in tmy earlier post was clear. The government subsidies for green energy now were in many ways like those for the oil and gas industries in the decades after Edwin Drake. As the price of solar has come down, almost like Moore’s Law regarding transistors in computers, government subsidies will be less and less needed. Hopefully, over time, there will be no need at all. (funny how the oil and gas industries still need help from Uncle Sam in their old economy industry).

    Have you figured out what the price of a human life is worth? Just checking. :-)

      1. Ha. $200K plus sales tax, right?

        Not enough. If I am going to give up my life, I want much more than that. And I am going to have to insist on all of it up front.

  5. Okay, some DATA.

    67% of the electricity generated in 2014 was from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, etc). Worldwide that goes up to around 80%. That electricity powers hospitals and utilities, heats homes, and anything else useful and beneficial that electricity is used for.

    If we want to play the cost/benefit analysis game with fossil fuels on Humans, how many would have died over the decades if not for fossil fuels? I am not diminishing those who suffer and die because of the effects of fossil fuel usage but I would wager, if we are talking about raw numbers, far fewer deaths have occurred overall because we have used fossil fuels than would have if we did not. In fact, the usage of fossil fuels which helped spur the industrial revolution has in turn resulted in the inventions of the very technology that the anti-fossil fuel lobby now advocates. And one has only to study history to see that the industrial revolution, fueled by fossil fuels (pun intended), resulted in better living conditions, longer lifespans, better food supply, better transportation, and exploding population.

    That said, the point about (sensible) regulations and alternative energy is well taken. Of course we should, as stewards of the earth, be looking for better and cleaner sources of power. But we simply cannot abandon the usage of fossil fuels such as coal until, and not before, the energy apparatus to replace it is fully functional and prepared to take over.

    Also, if we want to play pro-life games how about this…

    Jeff Adams says that thousands die in the United States due to fossil fuels. He argues that because of this the only pro-life thing to do is get rid of fossil fuels.

    Estimates are that as many as 40,000 Americans die each year (and many more injured) as a result of auto accidents. So, in order to be truly pro-life, does that mean cars should be banned? Should the government make everyone use mass transit such as buses or trains? Estimates are also that over 600,000 Americans die each year because of heart disease. Should we get rid of every restaurant or food company that produces food produces considered bad for the heart? (of course, there is a movement to do exactly that) Should these industries be punished by the government?

    In 2012, 2.5 million Americans died. Jeff says (because of regulations) fossil fuel related deaths are now under 10,000 a year. I saw one estimate of 7,500 for 2010 so if roughly the same is true for 2012, then fossil fuels account for approx. 0.003% of American deaths and it ranks very low on the list of death-causers in the United States, yet to hear the liberals speak, one would think it was the chief cause.

    I hate getting into cost/benefit analysis over any topic when it comes to debating Human life but if we want to argue against something because a certain number of deaths can be linked to it, then such reasoning can be used to argue against anything in existence.

    In the end, a rash ending of fossil fuels before the economy (and the millions of people who, at this time, rely on fossil fuels for their livelihood or their electricity needs) is ready to handle a changeover would cost far more in the Human equation than continuing fossil fuel usage until we can sensibly phase it out without undue cost.

    1. “Jeff Adams says that thousands die in the United States due to fossil fuels. He argues that because of this the only pro-life thing to do is get rid of fossil fuels.”

      Where did I say get rid of fossil fuels? What have I TOLD you before about putting words in my mouth?

      That right now would be impossible. Eventually, it will have to be a necessity, since fossil fuels are limited in supply. Considering it took millions of years to convert carbon-based plants and animals into fossil fuels, we cannot simply create billions of barrels of oil in a lab. In time humans will not be able to use fossil fuels because of supply.

      Rather, I argue–I thought rather clearly–for a strong move to green energy. I support government subsidies to get us on the path. To me it is pro-life to reduce human suffering and death as much as possible.

      Would I eliminate cars? Now you are just silly. But I think it good that regulations exist regarding car safety, and I deplore any automaker who would put profits over lives. Cars are safer than ever, and the roads are better built. I support strong laws regarding drunk driving and would, if it were up to me, make cell phone usage and texting while driving serious offenses.

      Politicians (mostly conservatives, but others as well) who oppose government regulations of utility companies and on automaker are NOT pro-life. They are the ones who put profits over human life, and that to me is immoral. You may or may not agree with that, but those are my values, and I take them seriously.

      To me buying a gas guzzler is not responsible, on many levels. I drive a high mpg car, and I don’t waste fuel or drive just for the heck of it. I am also a vegetarian. My carbon footprint is small.

      Your point regarding the Industrial Revolution was irrelevant. I am talking about NOW, not two hundred years ago, obviously.

      1. “Where did I say get rid of fossil fuels? What have I TOLD you before about putting words in my mouth?”

        Like I care what you tell me to do or not do. You are not my parent, though at times you certainly act as if you are. Your chastisements find no audience here. And you words are self-explanatory. When you cheer fossil fuel companies going bankrupt (and you are record as saying that is exactly what you do) then I do not really care if you have said specifically that you want rid of fossil fuels or not, that is still what you want and you want government to be the agent that drives fossil fuel industry into the ground and raises green energy through subsidy. How’s that working out? I don’ t mind trying to help new businesses that actually help the economy but the government has shown it has little acumen in making good decisions with their subsidies. So far, the Obama administration has blown over $150 billion taxpayer dollars (as of 2013, probably even higher now) on renewable energy companies that have gone bust (Solyndra, etc). So you can understand why conservatives might grimace at the thought of using the government as an agent of change in the energy industry.

        “Considering it took millions of years to convert carbon-based plants and animals into fossil fuels, we cannot simply create billions of barrels of oil in a lab. In time humans will not be able to use fossil fuels because of supply.”

        Hmm. Well, we actually agree on something (aside from yet again another millions of years reference which I must assume was an intentional prick). Humans will, in time, not be able to use fossil fuels for supply.

        “Would I eliminate cars? Now you are just silly.”

        That was exactly my intention, to be silly. It was not a serious question I was actually asking you. It was a rhetorical point that was supposed to be exaggerated.

        Of course, as regards the whole post, since I agreed with you that the move to cleaner and more sustainable energy was one that WILL have to me made in the future, I am unsure as to why you felt you needed reply at all.

  6. Protectionism is a dirty economic word. It brings to mind the events of the 30s with the Taft-Hartley act causing economic stress to the US. I don’t think this word can be properly associated with Trump. Trump is for decreasing regulation, lowering taxes, and renegotiating in order to make the US an optimal place for business. Now, we never hear about these things on the news because viewers don’t really care about “boring” things like tax codes, but that’s a separate issue.

    It is true that people need to move on from their old jobs in many cases. When the automobile came out, the horse-carriage maker was providing nothing valuable to society. A government that tries to protect certain failing industries is simply encouraging mediocrity.

    When countries like China are using slave labor, they have a huge advantage over the US. So Trump, just like any politician, may not be able to truly fix any of these problems. As my Macroeconomics professor Dr. Haymond often says, “There are no solutions in economics, only tradeoffs.” However, I think that what Trump advocates is at least a step in the right direction, making the US economy more efficient and business-friendly.

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