Saying that everyone could be made better off with increased international trade is not the same as people actually being made better off. There are winners and losers from increased international trade, and while I agree that the gains exceed the losses in almost all cases, the gains haven’t been distributed in a way that leaves everyone, or even most everyone, better off (see, e.g., widening inequality and where the costs of these kinds of adjustments fall). When some people are made better off and others made worse off at the same time, economists cannot say it is unambiguously better or worse. If we are going to make the argument that trade is good because everyone could potentially be made better off, we should do much more than we have to ensure that this potential is realized, i.e. that the gains from trade are distributed widely across the population rather than concentrated among a smaller set of winners.
But this argument then generally morphs into an insistence that we should not have free trade until that compensatory mechanism is put in place, so that, say, I, who will be gaining from that free trade will be compensating those who will lose from that free trade.
Hmm. But do you see what is implicit in that argument?
That there are gains that I am not getting, gains that are going to some other, as a result of our not currently having free trade.
This is obvious: if free trade benefits me and disbenefits you, then not free trade must disbenefit me and benefit you.
Which leads to the question: are you compensating me for those benefits you are getting and the disbenefits I am getting from the absence of free trade?
Where, in short, is my check from those benefitting from protectionism?
Fuck you then matey.