I am mystified by the debate over whether to force the divestment of or ban TikTok, the Chinese digital platform that has flourished in the United States. Congress passed a bill on Tuesday that does this, citing national-security concerns. The Chinese government could have access to personal information from the platform’s 170 American million users and could also use the platform to influence American opinion. These are legitimate concerns, but there has always been a more fundamental reason for reading TikTok the riot act.

America’s international trade policy was originally based on the idea that the nation’s fledgling industries needed to be protected by tariffs from foreign producers. That policy culminated in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, which has been blamed for turning the 1929 financial crash into the Great Depression. In 1934, Congress enacted the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act, which allowed the United States to establish reciprocal agreements with other countries, mutually reducing tariffs. The new approach was based on the correct assumption that American industry had become competitive with, if not superior to, other countries’ industries.

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