Should Russia Be Protected Against Imports?
If the report is true, which would not be surprising, there is a certain irony—a very certain irony—in the US government’s intent to handicap the Russian government by preventing imports into that country from producers of G7 countries (“Allies Resist US Plan to Ban All G7 Exports to Russia,” Financial Times, April 25, 2023). Aren’t imports bad and dangerous for national security, as both Donald Trump and Joe Biden agree? Shouldn’t our statocrats encourage Russians to import and producers from G7 countries to export there? Shouldn’t the US government be bold and subsidize exports to Russia? Wouldn’t that weaken their domestic manufacturing industry and thus handicap their economy and their government’s war machine?
Memorandum: Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum from friendly countries under the excuse of national security; he toyed with the idea of doing the same for foreign cars. Biden kept many of Trump’s tariffs, and the subsidies of his CHIPS Act are supposed to protect Americans from dangerous imports of foreign technology. The American political class now seems unanimous in supporting the emotions underlying this approach.
Coincidentally, a story in the Wall Street Journal documents the fact that despite, or because of, playing commissar, the Pentagon has run out of domestic suppliers for a special sort of gunpowder. Fortunately, they could buy some from Germany, Poland, Switzerland and, if Trump returns to power, even from Brazil (“The U.S. Military Relies on One Louisiana Factory. It Blew Up,” April 26, 2023). I suspect that many suppliers in the wide more-or-less free world would happily fill the void.
(Incidentally, and pardon my pedantry, the author of this interesting story or his editor seems to think that gunpowder “is used … in bullets.” Should an employment condition for journalists be that they own at least one gun and one cartridge?)
We can imagine one response to my ridiculing the US government for wanting to make Russia great again by encouraging its autarky. The response would be that, given Putin’s savage invasion of Ukraine and its bellicose nuclear threats, it is justifiable to handicap his government even by strangling the economy of its subjects. Although my former self would not agree, I would now tend to grant that embargoes and sanctions, although they also hit the very subjects of the government imposing them, may help prevent the worse alternative of open war and general conscription. But such a response, at least a prudent one, would still suggest that imports are unequivocally beneficial in peacetime.
The reported American crusade to prevent imports into Russia is not the only incoherence of protectionism, a sentimental and authoritarian doctrine. As the saying goes (somewhat reformulated to make it less collectivist), protectionism is what nationalist states do against their subjects in times of peace that would be imposed to their same subjects by foreign enemies in times of war.