The Trump administration’s incomprehension of the benefits, and hostility to the practice, of free trade represents one of the most important current threats to the ideas of liberty, I argue in a new essay up at the Cato Institute’s website, “Free Trade is Under Attack, and It Must be Defended.”

Gage Skidmore/Foter,comGage Skidmore/Foter,com

The core of the argument:

The economic and moral case for free trade of goods, capital, and labor across borders is so strong, and so core to the libertarian vision, that any politician, party, or group that professes to further the cause of liberty and does not understand and advocate it cannot be relied on as an intelligent ally.

In year one of the Trump administration, then, the greatest challenge facing political liberty is rewinning support, either popular, or elite, or preferably both, for this core free market principle. Free trade very recently was central to the free-market image of Trump’s party, the Republicans, but they mostly seem to have shed it in service of propping up their president’s agenda, or in search of tax solutions, like a border adjustment tax, that they can sell as harming only “them” and not us.

From the moment he declared his candidacy, Trump’s highest priority seemed to be forceful interference with the free movement of goods, services, and people across the American border. His reasons were based in either unreasonable fearmongering over a very small risk (when it comes to immigrants), or a misunderstanding, or a pure rejection, of the principle that people should be able to trade their property and labor as they wish with minimal interference from the state.

Trump didn’t even wait until he was sworn in to begin threatening businesses who dare use their capital outside the American border. Chiefly he sought punitive taxes and sought to use the government’s power of special favors to cajole companies into not doing so. In his inaugural address he cut to the point with a clarity that was brutal and frightening to those who understand free trade as the cornerstone of liberty and worldwide wealth: “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs,” Trump said. “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”

The Cato Institute (a libertarian public policy analysis think tank) is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and that essay is part of a series they commissioned and are publishing on the “Future of the Free Society.”