Saturday, April 27, 2019

Interview: Lew Rockwell says Trump should forget tariffs and "rely on the free market"

Editor's note: This interview was originally published in February 2017.

This is the second part of my discussion with Lew Rockwell. The first segment is available here. 
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto 
For untold millions of Americans, libertarianism might seem like something of a passing trend -- a fad, essentially.
The band of through-and-through adherents to libertarian philosophy might be, relative to the overall population of our country, negligible, but mind this age old saying: "Big things come in small packages."
Both the guiding lights of America's libertarian movement and run-of-the-mill activists enjoy a megaphone-powered voice. While neither the mainstream left or right are behind them anywhere close to 100 percent, libertarians have found that many lefties support a liberty-minded approach to civil rights and, more broadly, constitutional protections. No small number of righties, meanwhile, endorse free market economics and stripping away bureaucracy. 
Therefore, it should be no surprise that, especially with the rise of the Internet, libertarian ideas have found their way into settings which would have been inhospitable only a decade ago. Nonetheless, getting a majority of leftists, rightists, and centrists to endorse comprehensive libertarian philosophy remains an order so tall that it can best be described as unlikely.
Still, the emissaries and adherents of libertarianism press forward. One cannot help but admire their deep sense of purpose, political courage, and strident conviction. 
Lew Rockwell personifies these attributes better than anyone I can imagine. He is among America's most famous and influential libertarian voices. He publishes an eponymous website which is ground zero for the libertarian chattering class; there one can find perspectives from all the shades of libertarianism, delivered without mainstream media filtration. Rockwell founded the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, which has grown into our world's foremost organ for Austrian School economic theory. Rockwell chairs the organization to this day.
As if all of this were not enough, he has authored four books, edited six, and worked closely with Ron Paul -- both as a congressional staffer and man of letters. 
Rockwell spoke with me about a good many topics relating to libertarianism in American society. Some of our conversation is included below.


Joseph Ford Cotto: The Donald Trump Administration promises many changes to federal politics. Do you believe that his economic proposals, generally speaking, will bring typical Americans higher wages?

Lew Rockwell: The Trump movement, on the whole, is a welcome mass rebellion against leftist elitism and “social justice.” It is clear that the Deep State is determined to destroy Trump through innuendo and “leaks,” and we hope that he will strike back and greatly diminish its nefarious influence on our national life. Some of Trump’s policies, such as slashing government regulations on business and cutting taxes, will certainly help generate prosperity and raise wages. Trump is wrong to support higher tariffs and use the government to try to bring jobs back to America.

Instead, he should rely on the free market. He is right to oppose government-controlled trade agreements like the TPP and NAFTA. In foreign policy, he spoke about reducing commitments abroad, and a real non-interventionist, “America First” foreign policy would free resources for peaceful economic development. If Trump can improve relations with Russia this is all to the good. Some of Trump’s recent moves, though, such as threatening Iran with sanctions, are a poor idea. Sanctions don’t work and increase the risk of war. Let’s hope that his non-interventionist tendencies win out.

Cotto: Libertarian economic theorists tend to believe that trade deficits are of minimal importance. Do these deficits really have a great impact on America's economy?

Rockwell: No, they don’t.  People often talk about a “favorable” or “unfavorable” balance of trade, but there is no basis for doing so. Why is it supposed to be good to sell more than you buy, i.e., have more exports than imports,  and bad  to buy more than you sell, i.e., have more imports than exports?  The assumption behind this line of thinking is the old mercantilist fallacy that it’s bad for money to be going out of a country and good for money to be coming into it. So long as we have a sound monetary system, such as the gold standard, this isn’t true.