by Don Boudreaux on December 26, 2006

in Trade

I’ve never liked the term we English-speakers use to describe that coalition of people who believe — or who claim to believe — that general prosperity is enhanced when government prevents citizens from buying foreign-made products.  This term, of course, is "protectionists."  We call "protectionists" that gaggle of fools, opportunistic politicians, and greedy producers who assert that the path to prosperity is paved with monopoly privileges.

Trouble is that "protectionist" sounds so, well, inoffensive.  Who’s against being protected?

David Henderson, editor of the indispensable Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, long ago told me that he never uses the deceptively innocent-sounding term "protectionist" to describe the forces that put their faith in monopoly power.  I liked his idea, but because "protectionist" is so well-established as the label for identifying the pro-monopoly crowd — for identifying the crowd that asserts that economic relevance is found in political borders — I have freely used the term "protectionist" to describe these plunderers.

But I wonder if another, better term is available.  My friend Marshall Fritz suggests the term "barrierist."  While this term has the great advantage of being closer to the truth —  the anti-free-trade crowd really believes that magic can be performed by barriers to commerce — "barrierist" doesn’t trip smoothly off the tongue.  In the abstract, it’s a better term than "protectionist," but I wonder if an even better term is available.

Please suggest better terms in the comments section.


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