There’s No Such Thing As Free Trade With China As Long As It Cheats

Contrary to the old adage, cheaters frequently prosper. From the New England Patriots to our Chinese trading partners, a lot of unscrupulous folks have done quite well for themselves by cheating. This invites the question of what sort of fools would keep dealing with known, unreformed cheaters?

This is among the questions raised by Kevin Williamson’s oblique seeming response to my criticism of one of his recent columns. I am unsure whether to feel slighted that this National Review writer did not deign to dignify me with a direct response or, given his abusive abilities when irate, to count it a small mercy.

Regardless, Williamson has implicitly acknowledged the problem with his snark about those who worried about the “sneaky Chinese” stealing American jobs. As he puts it, “the biggest beef U.S. firms have with China [is] the theft of intellectual property, particularly in the form of counterfeit goods.” He argues that the best response to this is to enforce, and perhaps strengthen, the laws we have against counterfeiting and importing counterfeit goods.

This is a reasonable point, and I support the stepped-up enforcement measures he recommends. If the goal is to protect ourselves while maximizing trade with China, these are good recommendations. However, in making the argument, Williamson concedes that there are significant costs to doing business with cheaters and scofflaws, and that regimes matter when trading. These points ought to be examined, for they complicate the narrative of free trade as an inevitable boon to all parties.
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