The idea that the United States should operate as a self-sustaining nation and non-reliant on the production of goods from foreign countries would not only be disastrous for the United States but could create huge road blocks for developing countries. When the ideas of protectionism and economic nationalism rise to the forefront of public policy discussions within the United States, only the harm or benefit to the United States is mentioned. There is no shortage of commentary from experts and economists that discuss these effects. What is not often discussed is the damage protectionist policies have on the economic growth of developing nations.
Perhaps the reason people rarely ever comment on the effects of American economic nationalism on foreign economies is because that might come across as putting the well-being of another country before the United States. The truth is, when one country works its way through the development stages it does not come at the expense of other countries.
An “America first” approach to our economy is actually harmful. Acton Institute Director of Research Samuel Gregg frequently writes about this. One of his more recent articles at The Stream titled ‘It May Sound Good, But Economic Nationalism Will Not Make America Great’ discusses all the ways that a move toward economic nationalism will only damage the U.S. economy in the long-run. But not only will it hurt the United States, it will also put every developing country that benefits from free trade with the United States in a worse situation. To countries that are still developing, this could be detrimental.
The United States has formal trade relations with more than 75 different countries around the world. A lot of those countries are in Africa and South America and several of them are by no means first world developed countries. What is the best thing the United States can do to help them develop? Trade with them.
There is no doubt about the contributions that free trade has on the development of a country. Ghanaian software entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse stated this fact well in the Acton Institute’s Poverty, Inc. documentary: “I have never heard of a country that developed on aid. If you have heard of one, let me know! I know about countries that developed on trade, and innovation, and business. I don’t know of any country that got so much aid that it suddenly became a first world country. I have never heard of such a country.”
Of the $34 billion of foreign aid that the United States is planning to give out in 2017, $3.6 billion will be earmarked for economic development. It is clear that the U.S. government does not understand Chinery-Hesse’s message.
Free trade generates economic growth and economic growth is the key to the development of any country. This is why developing countries rely on free trade to develop and if the United States decides to withdraw from this trade then we are sending a message to those countries that we do not want to partner with them in their development.
Trade is a mutually beneficial activity and protectionist policies are mutually harmful. If the United States really wants to help developing countries we should open our markets to them. And as Christians, we should be eager to engage in economic activity with our brothers and sisters across the globe, because when we do, it gives them greater opportunities to flourish.
Kyle Hanby is a Liberty@Work Associate at the Acton Institute. He is a former University Relations Intern at the Charles Koch Institute in Arlington, Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance from Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana where he chaired the American Enterprise Institute Executive Council and was a 4 year member of the men’s varsity tennis team.
**Picture by Neil Palmer (CIAT). A farmer at work in Kenya’s Mount Kenya region. From Wikipedia, sharing according to the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/