Trump’s Protectionism: A Great Leap Backward

US Presidents, European leaders and their academic spokespeople have attributed China’s growing market shares, trade surpluses and technological power to its “theft” of western technology, “unfair” or non-reciprocal trade and restrictive investment practices. President Trump has launched a ‘trade war’ – raising stiff tariffs, especially targeting Chinese exports – designed to pursue a protectionist economic regime.

The China-bashers of the western world ignore the developmental experiences of the past two hundred and fifty years, starting with the post-revolutionary United States policy of protecting ‘infant industries’.

In this essay we will proceed to criticize the model underlying the current western attack on China. We will then turn to outlining the experience of countries which overcame backwardness in the course of successfully industrializing their economies.

Development in Historical Perspective

Western ideologists claimed that ‘backward economies’ should follow a development path originally established by successful countries, namely the UK.

They argued that ‘stages of development’ begin by embracing liberal free market policies, specializing in their ‘comparative advantages,’ namely exporting raw materials. Economic ‘modernization’ would lead, stage by stage to a mature high consumption society.

The advocates of the liberal stage theory dominated the…

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