As I walk through Ann Arbor on my way home each day, I pass shops with signs hanging in their windows that read “Buy local, or bye-bye local.” The logic of this protectionist view seems simple enough — if we buy only from ourselves, we will keep our fellow Americans or Michiganders employed. If they are employed, they will buy stuff and, bingo, we will all be rich. But not only are protectionist sentiments economically destructive, they are also in direct opposition to another frequently expressed view of Ann Arbor locals — the hope for world peace.

Of course, the simplest argument against protectionism is this: If it is really beneficial to local trade to impose tariffs on countries to make international trade more expensive, why not put up tariffs between states? Wouldn’t it be better to stop the people of Michigan from wasting their money on those lousy, cheap Ohio goods? Why not extend tariffs further to each county, city block and house? This would certainly create jobs, since everybody would have to drill for their own oil to drive their cars.

The core of the protectionist argument is that creating jobs, it is believed, creates wealth. But if this were really the case, we should all return to pre-Industrial Revolution farming — before technology made work more efficient and less time-consuming — and “create” more jobs. We would be able to employ more people using shovels or their hands to do the same job one tractor can do.

This would obviously be a flawed economic approach, and that’s because wealth comes from increased capital investment, not increased employment. Capital investment allows for fewer people to produce more, and because they are producing more, they will be paid more. And capital accumulation creates jobs that didn’t previously exist — there are, after all, very few jobs today that existed 100 years ago. If anything, labor has become scarcer relative to capital and land than ever before. Our high wages are the result of, not the cause of, our prosperity.

But there’s a related reason to support free trade — one that my fellow peace-loving college students should support. The main reason to abolish all tariffs is to ensure economic interdependence among all people of the earth and bring about world peace.

I am proud to call myself a citizen of the world. I see no ethical or biological distinction between myself, a European, an Asian or an African. We are all deserving of the same natural rights, including the right to benefit from trading with each other.

There may be confusion among some proponents of world peace as to what a free market foreign policy actually entails. Free trade is certainly a major part of it, but to truly have free trade, our foreign policy must be non-interventionist. In a world of minimal states, it shouldn’t matter which state controls which territory. The interference of the state in our lives should be so minimal that it would have no reason or ability to restrict people from living where they want or trading with who they want.

The greatest era of free trade and classical liberalism existed during the first half of the 19th century, beginning around the end of the Napoleonic Wars and lasting until the rise of imperialism that accompanied the unification of Germany. During this period in Europe, the constant, dynastic wars that had plagued the continent since the fall of the Roman Empire ended. This time period also allowed for people of any nationality to come to the United States and seek a better life. It’s no accident that the greatest era of free trade was accompanied by widespread peace — free trade and world peace go hand in hand.

In contrast, consider one of the most egregious warmongers in history — Adolf Hitler, who is often remembered for saying that Germany was in need of “breathing space” in order to justify his conquests. But his motivation for these conquests was to secure enough resources for Germany to be self-sufficient. This is the end to which protectionist policies inevitably lead — world war over available resources.

In a world of true capitalism and free trade, it doesn’t matter where resources are located. Any person would be able to purchase goods from whomever they wanted, and warfare would be incredibly limited or nonexistent. Peace lovers should keep this in mind and get rid of their signs that favor of protectionism.

Vincent Patsy can be reached at vapatsy@umich.edu.

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