For years, National Review has been relentless in its criticism of conservatives who questioned the benefits of free trade, even though the conservative tradition in America has historically been skeptical of free trade. “Protectionist” was one of the most common epithets the magazine hurled at Pat Buchanan during his runs for the White House. In lockstep with most mainstream journals of opinion, the magazine long projected a blasé insouciance over the decimation of American manufacturing jobs. The magazine scarcely deviated from the establishment consensus that those jobs weren’t that important and those who lost them would be better off, as they retrained for a brighter, high tech future. And knee-jerk globalism remains the order of the day for most of the writers at NR, with numerous articles appearing recently to lambaste Donald Trump for imposing tariffs on foreign washing machines and solar panels.
But some writers at NR are showing signs of letting reality pierce the fog of ideology. Recently, Reihan Salam focused on a new academic study which concluded that “a decrease in blue-collar employment can lead to ‘a decline in marriage and fertility, an increase in the fraction of mothers who are unmarried and who are heads of single, non-cohabiting households, and a growth in the fraction of children raised in poverty.'” Salam forthrightly acknowledges that foreign trade—the same trade the ideologues at NR have been assuring us is beneficial for decades—played a role in bringing about a dramatic decline in marriage, and worse: “a trade shock was estimated to result in 74.3 surplus male deaths relative to female deaths per 100,000 adults of each gender per decade.” Salam also cites a Business Insider article on the study, which highlighted the crucial importance of manufacturing jobs to family formation: “when towns and counties lose manufacturing jobs, fertility and marriage rates among young adults go down, too. Unmarried births and the share of children living in single-parent homes go up. Meanwhile, places with higher manufacturing employment have a bigger wage gap between men and women, and a higher marriage rate.”
Unsurprisingly, then, economic stability is conducive to stable families. And before America foolishly embraced free trade, the American manufacturing sector produced great economic stability. In all too many places, that stability is only a distant memory. It turns out the reviled protectionists were right: those “cheap” foreign imports weren’t so cheap after all.