Return of the 1950s

In putting it on Twitter, I was just rereading a recent post, in which I said, “I get the feeling that what the 1950s are to economic liberals– a supposed golden era that will surely never return– the 2000s will be to social liberals.”

The problem with that is that if Trump’s supporters get their way and high tariffs become a regular thing, the 1950s will in some limited degree return.

The 1950s were a unique time.  The world was still recovering from the destruction of World War II, leaving us the main supplier of finished goods for the world.  In other countries, the knowledge of manufacturing techniques was limited; they were not yet the competitors they now are.  But that decade was also before the effects of free trade on law.  International capital flows was one effect of globalization.  Even countries that did not, like England, try to prevent people from taking capital out of the country were not terribly friendly to international capital flows.  But law was also much more direct and ancient about trade: tariffs were much more common and better thought-of back then.  So were unions, which are in their essence a form of protectionism.

Even if anyone wanted to destroy the manufacturing capacity of the rest of the world, even if anyone could, and less still could be done to take away the rest of the world’s knowledge of manufacturing.  But free trade is very much on its heels right now.  No one has discussed restricting international flows of capital yet, since it’s too dry and Byzantine for populism, but it might happen.  If so, and if tariffs do return to their mid-century popularity, the circles of politics and economics in a Venn diagram of America will return toward the high degree of overlap they had in the 1950s.

And when that happens, the impact of votes upon economics will rise– and unions are likely to return to some degree.