American Conservatives - Pro free-trade?

I know America bullies (I can’t think of a politer term, I’m afraid) other countries into dropping trade “barriers” in the name of free trade (mostly this is directed against poorer countries, but trying to force Europe to accept GM crops - and demanding that goods are not labelled as containing GM so consumers can’t chose to avoid them sticks in my mind, for some reason, though I’m not necessarily against GM itself)

I’ve also known for a while that America, like Europe imposes some barriers, and hands out some subsidies, such as for agriculture and that these cause harm in the third world particularly. I know that Harley Davidson would have gone out of business long ago if it had been left to market forces. But what has surprised me recently is to keep coming up against so many examples of American barriers and subsidies - for example against Canadian wood imports, or the Afghans pleading to be allowed to sell textiles to the US to try to get their economy running.

So I have a question – how free is the American market?

But I’m more interested in the thinking behind it – I’m not a Conservative, either in the US or the UK sense, but in general I believe in the free market – and that it shouldn’t stop at national boundaries. I’ve just assumed that US Conservatives were pro free-trade, but reading threads here I see Conservative positions on taxes, welfare, the Gulf war etc, but the only positions I’ve seen on trade seem agin freedom – i.e. preventing outsourcing to India. Bush seems to be against free-trade – increasing tariffs and subsidies i.e. on steel.

So is free-trade part of US Conservative thinking? If so, is it just good old-fashioned hypocrisy (present in politicians in every country on earth) that dictates policy, or is there a feeling that the rules change at the US border – as with democracy: - “Democracy in America = Keystone of the country, Democracy outside America = less important than the profits of the United Fruit Co”?

If Pat Buchanan is a conservative, then many aspects of international free trade are not part of conservative thinking. Bush is generally a free trade guy, but as you noted he’s not above politicking (steel tariffs) when it suits him. I’d call Buchanan more of a populist, but he calls himself a conservative and lots of people concur.

If you look at the William F. Buckley type conservatives or the Milton Friedman libertarian brand of conservativism, you’ll find few if any restrictions on international free trade.

So, the problem is that the word “conservative” isn’t precise enough. And the issue in your OP, international free trade, is probably one of the most contentious in the catalog.

Right, which usually rearranges politics to seem rather funny,

for instance Bill Clinton and George Bush both support NAFTA, both representing the mainstream, centrist, pro-business tendencies of both parties.

but Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader both oppose NAFTA, Pat Buchanan because it helps poor Mexican workers at the expense of American economic strength, Ralph Nader because it helps American economic strength at the expense of poor Mexican workers. Odd, how both wings of the two parties often seem so close, but for completely opposite reasons.

Historically, the Republicans have been pro-tarriff, (some Confederate apoligists actually say that the South went to war in 1861 over Lincoln’s position on tarriffs and not slavery, Hmpph, yeah right).

I assume we all remember that famous McKinley Tariff of 1896? Or the Hawley-Smoot Tariff that was such a disaster during the Great Depression? But, that was because tariffs were good for industry, when they were in constant competition with European goods domestically.

Whereas the strength of the Democrats typically resided in the South where agricultural exports made people demand tariffs be lowered.

However, with the shift of the Democrats to a more collectivist, interventionist approach under Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Republicans antithetically started growing towards a more libertarian position.

And most industrial leaders now generally support a free trade approach, depending as they do on foreigners purchasing their goods, and overwhelming as they do most of the competition.

We saw this particularly emerge under Reagan’s “new conservatism”, a combination of fundamentalist social policy with libertarian economic policy, whose principal economic forebearer had been F.A. Hayek (see his Road to Serfdom).

This is in direct contrast to Richard Nixon, who had described himself as a ‘Keynesian’ (Hayek’s greatest intellectual rival and opposition during the 1930s and 1940s).

Although Hayek was Austrian, American libertarians found strength at the University of Chicago during the 1960s. Particularly with Milton Friedman and W. Buckley. Ayn Rand also became a popular inspiration for Reagan Republicanism.

Interestingly, Hayek, although the New Deal’s greatest critic, never considered himself a conservative, but instead called himself an “Old Whig”, see his famous essay “Why I am Not a Conservative”.

However, it is kind of ironic that currently the greatest support among American politicans for international free trade is among those who would intellectually be the greatest critics of F.D.R.'s New Deal style liberalism, given that the modern foundations of globalism, were laid at the Bretton Woods Conference, and the GATT treaty, by F.D.R.'s secretary of state, Colden Hull, (who later received a Noble Prize) and his vice president, Harry S Truman.

Sorry if this mini-essay was a little confusing.
The entire issue is more than a little confusing.