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Donald Trump, via Wiki­media Commons

Last week, CNN reported that Pres­ident Donald Trump wants to inves­tigate effects of import sub­si­dization and dumping on the U.S. trade deficit — and is con­sid­ering an increase in tariffs, if a neg­ative effect is found. Trump expresses no qualms about tariffs; during his cam­paign, he pro­posed a 45 percent tariff on China and a 35 percent tariff on Mexico.

Trump’s pro­tec­tionism taps into the mis­con­ception that foreign busi­nesses’ suc­cesses tain our American identity. We want jobs here, and not just for prac­tical reasons. Some­thing deeper than unem­ployment nags us when an American factory dis­solves because of Chinese imports or Mexican labor.

So we call it patri­otism when we vote for politi­cians who promise to keep jobs here. Pro­tec­tionist policies, we’re told, will sustain American employment and expand American busi­nesses. They reaffirm the American identity.

But has safety at the cost of diversity and freedom and choice ever been our identity? In the end, is pro­tection worth the price — or even effective?

Despite their patriotic allure, pro­tec­tionist policies are harmful because they don’t work, and they distort our quest for justice and human flour­ishing.

A tariff is a tax a domestic gov­ernment man­dates  on foreign  goods. To stay prof­itable, com­panies pass tax burdens onto con­sumers by raising prices — ulti­mately, the cost falls on you. And you can’t avoid the problem by switching to domestic goods, because domestic pro­ducers raise their prices if foreign pro­ducers’ prices go up.

Foreign pro­ducers aren’t happy, either. They lose business because con­sumers aren’t buying their expensive goods. They might pull their goods from America com­pletely, which leaves con­sumers with fewer — and pos­sibly lower-quality ones — options in the store aisle.

In response, some foreign coun­tries levy tariffs on our goods. This hurts American pro­ducers whose goods face tariffs in other coun­tries. To cover the cost, they raise prices and probably lose business from abroad. As American com­panies lose business, they have to cut back on workers, which means Amer­icans lose jobs.

A recent study by the National Foun­dation for American Policy esti­mated that pro­posed tariffs on China, Japan, and Mexico would cost each American household, on average, $11,100 over five years. Worse, the lowest tax bracket faces the worst con­se­quences, losing 18 percent of their mean after-tax income.

Without pro­tec­tionism, some workers may lose their jobs, but other oppor­tu­nities for employment will arise. The New York Times recently reported on three Indiana brothers living that reality: One lost his job when his factory closed due to com­pe­tition from China; another works for a local Toyota plant that exports around the world; and the third, a teacher, relies on lower costs of imported goods to make a decent livelihood.

Foreign coun­tries get our money, but that means they can buy our goods or invest in our banks. Capital inflow bal­ances out trade deficits — meaning that, if we import more than we export, foreign coun­tries are also investing more money in our banks.

Also, the poor benefit from trade. A 2000 study by the World Trade Orga­ni­zation found poor economies develop faster with more open trade. The Econ­omist reported that the poor in coun­tries such as China, South Korea, and Ireland ben­e­fited greatly since free trade opened up after World War II. When the poor in foreign coun­tries trade their goods for American capital, the Her­itage Foun­dation pointed out, their indus­tries develop more quickly.

Without pro­tec­tionism, we can enter the world, do good for it, and benefit in return.

Openness to change defines the American identity. We stick to our morals and prin­ciples, of course, but those prin­ciples include cul­ti­vating freedom and wel­coming other peoples and cul­tures, gen­erosity with our pros­perity, and a will­ingness to accept what other nations do better than we can. We take risks to create a better, more free, more just world.

Mankind wants more than safety. We want freedom and choice and oppor­tunity. We can keep living and loving and doing what we do best, and we have faith that things will be all right, even in the fleeting shadow of unem­ployment. We don’t want pro­tec­tionism. We don’t need it. It pro­tects us too much — pro­tects us from who we are.

Ms. Ault is a sophomore studying eco­nomics, German, and jour­nalism.