President Trump spent the past few weeks ratcheting up his trade wars, which he claims would be “easy to win.” He has implemented tariffs on steel and uranium, in a move that even many or most of his own party’s Congress members oppose, not to mention most other world leaders. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong, and indeed America’s $566 billion trade deficit in 2017 was the highest since 2008.
But this 1918 article by Edward A. Bradford made a similar case to the argument against Trump today — namely, that freer markets rather than protectionism benefit all. Similar to how the current administration’s policies are trying to discourage Americans from purchasing products from China, Mexico, Canada, Japan, and other nations, the feeling was widespread in 1918 that Americans shouldn’t purchase products or encourage business from Germany once World War I was over. Bradford rebutted that notion:
It is necessary to curb Germany in order to make the world safe for democracy. It is even more necessary in order to make the world safe for business. And the number of those who care for business is incomparably larger than the number of those who care for politics…
Business makes the whole world kin, and there is business under monarchies and democracies alike, without regard to politics. There is no law about politics, and probably never can be so long as politics does not disturb property and business. But there is a world law of business, for all the world trades together, and thereby establishes a common law of business…
No nation can allow another nation to impose law upon it, and no formula for international law can be agreed upon. Under our laws a man is entitled to trial before a jury of his peers. There can be no such jury in international cases. The case starts with prejudices, which never were so strong as now. The world is in hostile camps, and there are those who would like to see business done under systems of boycott or economically hostile organizations. This war must have an end, but a war of boycott would run interminably, with loss for all and benefit to none.
Business World’s Grievance Against Germany: A Nation Organized Like a Trust, Conspiring for Restraint of all Trade Without Guidance of Reason or Conscience
Published: Sunday, March 17, 1918