NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 12, 2010

When Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota announced his support for Barack Obama's presidential campaign early in 2008, he told reporters that a key factor in his endorsement was that Obama "has always opposed NAFTA" -- the North American Free Trade Agreement linking Canada, Mexico, and the United States.  Dorgan is a strident protectionist, so there was nothing unusual about his slap at NAFTA, says columnist Jeff Jacoby.  Except this: The same week that Dorgan came out for Obama, the U.S. Commercial Service reported that North Dakota had ranked first in the nation for export growth the previous year.. . And the top destinations for the North Dakota merchandise exported in 2007?  Canada and Mexico.

International commerce has been good to Dorgan's state.  According to the International Trade Administration:

  • Exports sustain one-seventh of all manufacturing jobs in North Dakota, and foreign companies employ another 8,300 people there.
  • In 2008, nearly 900 North Dakota firms, the great majority of them small- to medium-sized, earned revenues of $2.8 billion from sales to customers in other countries.

Why would a senator whose state has benefited so handsomely from trading across borders believe that opposition to free trade is somehow in his constituents' interest, asks Jacoby?  Or a quality to seek in presidential candidates?

Trade barriers, writes the Cato Institute's Dan Griswold in his new book, "Mad About Trade," rob people of the rightful fruits of their own labor, distributing the spoils to other people with no moral claim to the confiscated wealth other than political power.

Protectionism, an old delusion, enriches the few at the expense of the many, diminishing freedom and eroding choice.  The blessings of free trade, by contrast, uplift all of us -- even the departing senator from North Dakota, whether he knows it or not, says Jacoby.

Source: Jeff Jacoby, "The protectionist delusion," Jewish World Review, January 11, 2010.

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