Protectionism And The National Security Argument

In a thread discussing food miles and the locavor movement, commenter Tracy W gives one of the best rebuttals I've ever seen to the national security argument for protectionism:

If you are dependent only on your local area, then you are very vulnerable to any supply disruptions in that area. If you can bring goods in from anywhere within 6000 miles, then if one of the areas within 6000 miles has a disruption another area within those 6000 miles can pick up the slack. Australia has been having a drought for the last few years which has massively reduced farm production, but there's no shortage of food in Australia because Australians can import food from the rest of the world.

If you want a little insurance, then go global, not local. Ships can be re-routed far faster than new crops can be grown if the locusts ate all this one.

International trade: like an Internet, which is a series of tubes.

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I have a weaker argument,

I have a weaker argument, but it doesn't rely on the person to change his opinion on what constitutes risk.

If supply of food is very low, the cost of food becomes very high, thus it is very profitable to sell some food if there is a big supply disturbtion. Assume we believe there is a risk of supply disturbtion from conspiring exporters. It make sense to grow local food and sell it, at a loss, in order to reap enormous profit if food cannot be imported anymore. Thus, if the fear is founded, through insurance and hedging mechanism, a free market will create "subsidized" agriculture.

But that requires the person

But that requires the person you are trying to convince to accept the notion that the market can adequately predict the risk of a future conspiratorial food embargo.

Peaches per gallon

We just collected two boxes of organic peaches (a bushel in total) from my sister (who bought them, along with her own boxes, from a local orchard). She lives about 30 miles from us, which takes me a little over two gallons in gas (there and back).

Suppose a truck from Wal-mart gets 6 mpg and carries 4000 cubic feet or 3,214 bushels.

That means that Wal-mart can move 536 bushels of peaches per gallon of fuel, two orders of magnitude better than my half-bushel per gallon. They could move peaches across the continent cheaper than I could drive them across the county.

There's a bad assumption hidden in here (it's 17 miles to my closest Wal-mart), but it goes to show that most fuel spent on produce is spent by the consumer, not by the supplier.