Dan Calabrese: When Did Conservatives Start Fearing Competition from Other Countries?

Dan Calabrese: When Did Conservatives Start Fearing Competition from Other Countries?


Somewhere along the line, over the course of the past couple decades, it became common among Republican voters to regard free trade as a threat to America’s economic vitality and to regard immigration as a threat to the livelihoods of Americans.

Both ideas have their roots in “America first”-style populism. Why should we open our markets to foreign competition that can hurt American companies? Why should we let foreigners come and live here before we first ensure that Americans have enough jobs?

Yet these lines of thinking are not consistent with classic conservative ideas about growth, opportunity and free markets. Indeed, they have more in common with the left-wing view of the world that sees wealth as a zero-sum game and recognizes no real value to the concept of growth.

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The optimistic conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp saw both trade and immigration as ways to boost productivity, create

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