Douglas Carswell

30 MAR 2016

Protectionism and socialism can't help us - just ask the North Koreans

North Koreans have reportedly been told to brace for another 'arduous march' – or devastating famine – the last of which killed 3.5 million people. Whereas North Korea's central economic planning and autarky have brought nothing but poverty, open markets and free trade have turned South Korea into one of the world's most dynamic economies. So why do politicians in the prosperous, free West fetishise the failed economic doctrines of Pyongyang?

Attacking free trade and free markets is in vogue on both the right and the left. Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership on a platform of back-to-the-70s nationalisation and redistributive taxes. Bernie Sanders is drawing swathes of support by attacking capitalism and globalisation. Donald Trump is leading the Republican race by advocating not just a physical wall against Mexico, but tariff barriers against China.

All three pretend that life can get better with the stroke of a pen in Washington or Whitehall. Wages too low? Tax the rich! Jobs too scarce? End free trade! Factories closing? Blame Beijing!

Trump, Sanders, and Corbyn style themselves as champions of the poor. They are praised by their supporters for going where the Establishment fears to tread. But are they really so brave? Making false promises of quick-fix solutions has always been the politician's path of least resistance.

Free trade and free markets aren't always the easiest sell. It's simple to point to the negative effects of globalisation for industrial cities in the West, as manufacturing jobs are automated or offshored. Showing the wider positive effects – lower prices, new jobs in the service sector, better specialisation – takes more explanation.

But here's the simple truth: if we listen to the protectionist and socialist snake-oil salesmen, there won't be an industrial renaissance. There'll be poverty.

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