Thursday, March 8, 2018

Pat Buchanan: Foundationtional War Hawk

By Robert Wenzel

Many libertarians cheer on the paleoconservative columnist Pat Buchanan for his many stands against overseas adventures of the U.S. military and for this Buchanan needs to be cheered.

However. this should not be interpreted as Buchanan being a full-fledged man of civility and peace. His support of tariffs is a serious mark against him. Tariffs are a vicious attack on free exchange that lowers the global standard of living and increases the potential for war.

Ludwig von Mises wrote in Liberalism:
As long as nations cling to protective tariffs, migration barriers, compulsory education, interventionism and etatism, new conflicts capable of breaking out at any time into open warfare will continually arise to plague mankind.
Further, William L. Anderson has correctly made the case that tariffs are sanctions. They result in the same kind of cruelty:
Standards of justice and decency demand that sanctions be lifted against Iraq. However, the people of nations like Guatemala, Bangladesh, China, and Peru are not deserving of the same fate as Iraq just because they are poorer than we are. It makes no sense to decry aggression against Iraq, and then demand the same treatment for those countries that wish to do nothing more than engage in peaceful exchange with American citizens.
In a recent column, Why Is the GOP Terrified of Tariffs? , Buchanan cruises along making the case for tariffs in a series on non sequiturs that match the quantity of non sequiturs the neoconservatives generally make when they attempt to justify U.S. military interventions around the globe. Pat, how can you get it so wrong?

In the column, Buchanan wrote:
On hearing that President Trump might impose tariffs on aluminum and steel, Sen. Lindsey Graham was beside himself: “Please reconsider,” he implored the president, “you’re making a huge mistake.”

Twenty-four hours earlier, Graham had confidently assured us that war with a nuclear-armed North Korea is “worth it.”

“All the damage that would come from a war would be worth it in terms of long-term stability and national security,” said Graham.

A steel tariff terrifies Graham. A new Korean war does not?
But because Graham is wrong about North Korea, why does this translate into Graham being wrong about tariffs?

Buchanan goes on:
The U.S. relied on tariffs to convert from an agricultural economy in 1800 to the mightiest manufacturing power on earth by 1900.
But where is the logical case that the tariffs converted the economy into a mighty manufacturing power? A much more sound case can be made that it was the free markets of the 1800s along with the accumulation of capital that spurred the manufacturing explosion. You can't have machinery growth without large amounts of new capital investments. Does Buchanan seriously think that without tariffs, the explosion in capital would not have occurred? And what does Buchanan say to the charge that tariffs actually resulted in hindering the growth because labor and capital were forced to devote attention to making lower level goods that could have been made overseas so that the U.S. manufacturers could have made even more complex manufacturing goods?

In other words, the logical case can be made that tariffs hindered the great manufacturing boom, that it would have been even greater without the tariffs.

Buchanan then writes:
The hysteria that greeted Trump’s idea of a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum suggest that restoring this nation’s economic independence is going to be a rocky road.
This is just a silly attack that is dispensed with by economics professors in Econ101 classes via the concept of the division of labor. (Adam Smith, Pat) Why should economic independence be a goal? Shouldn't we farm out work that can be done by less skilled so that we in the U.S., where we are highly skilled and educated, focus on more complex tasks?

Buchanan then makes an observation that I don't think he understands:
 We have a strategic asset no one else can match. We control access to the largest richest market on earth, the USA.
Well, yeah, we have a strategic asset that is why tariffs are not needed. The U.S. is an economic powerhouse. We need to farm out the goods that are in a sense " a waste of time" for us to make so we can focus on making the complex goods that will allow the U.S. to be the largest richest market on earth.

Finally, the warning of Mises should not be taken lightly, To the degree that we co-operate via free trade, the less likely that a foreign country will consider us hostile. You don't attack the hand that feeds you (through exchange).

So to answer Buchanan's question, why fear tariffs? Because they ratchet up the possibility of hostilities between countries and they lower our standard of living since tariffs will require our labor and capital to focus on producing goods that would otherwise be made overseas, thus resulting in our country being less of a great producer.

But the ratcheting up of unfriendliness between nations is the great danger of tariffs. And Buchanan's support for such tariffs makes him a foundational war hawk.

Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. The Robert Wenzel podcast is on  iphone and stitcher.


  1. --- Buchanan: "The U.S. relied on tariffs to convert from an agricultural economy in 1800 to the mightiest manufacturing power on earth by 1900." ---

    Pat should read Burton Folsom's great book "Uncle Sam Can't Count" where he exposes the government's inability to control any market, which contradicts Pat's thesis that the US became an industrial powerhouse thanks to tariffs. If it were true that protectionism helps a country, then China would've been the biggest economic powerhouse of the late 19th Century.

    The real reason why America, as well as many other places around the world like Sweden, Mexico, Norway, Japan, Argentina, etc. grew with a prodigious pace during the second part of the 19th Century and early 20th, was because government intervention was very low and markets were free. It wasn't because of tariffs. Pat is wrong, very wrong.

    1. Yes, and how does Buchanan’s lack of logic re tariffs lead to industrial greatness exactly? A tax that funds a ever growing State and bureaucracy that subsidies cherry picked favorites; the choice of which are influenced by the same powerful industry interests themselves through graft,money, and power.

      Tariffs always raise costs and prices to the consumer, leading the poorer among them to go without completely. They lead to scarcity and destroy the free market in theory and reality. Tariffs are simply political tools to steer control, power, and wealth into an oligarchical minority.

  2. Though I prefer an easily bought off custom agent over easily jailed me serving as my own IRS agent, and Powell at the Fed as my backup, collecting the “revenues”.