Reporters always complain about not having enough space to give the full story, which makes it a mystery as to why they so frequently add the word “free” to references to trade policy. We got an example of this wasteful wordiness in a NYT article on Donald Trump’s decision to ignore nepotism and conflict-of-interest rules and appoint his son-in-law Jared Kushner as a top adviser.
The piece told readers that Kushner, along with other responsibilities, would work on “matters involving free trade.” The use of “free” in this context is misleading since much of the US trade agenda is about increasing protectionism in the form of longer and stronger patent, copyright, and related protections. These protections are equivalent to tariffs of many thousand percent in the economic distortions they produce. They are 180 degrees at odds with free trade. There also has been little, if any, effort to remove protectionists barriers that benefit highly paid professionals, such as the ban on foreign doctors who have not completed a US residency program.
For these reasons, it is inaccurate to include the word “free” in reference to US trade policy. It is difficult to see why the NYT and other news outlets feel the need to do it.