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Protectionists are Profoundly Confused

Posted By Don Boudreaux On September 29, 2009 @ 8:42 am In Trade | Comments Disabled

In a letter appearing in Sunday’s Washington Times [1], protectionist William Hawkins accuses Adam Smith [2] of being “dreadfully wrong” to insist that the ultimate goal of economic activity is consumption rather than production.

Alas, the dreadfully wrong one is Hawkins.  He confuses means with ends.  Flour, sugar, apples, an oven, and labor are necessary ingredients for baking an apple pie, but these means are valuable in this use only if someone wants to consume the pie.  If no one wants to eat apple pie, then using these ingredients to produce the pie would be wasteful.

Adam Smith correctly understood that the desire to consume is what justifies production, and not vice-versa.  If Mr. Hawkins were correct that the ultimate goal of economic activity is production, then he should be just as pleased to have set before him for dessert a fresh-from-the-oven sawdust-and-earthworm pie as he is to have an apple pie.

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[1] In a letter appearing in Sunday’s Washington Times: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/sep/27/thinking-like-a-libertarian/

[2] Adam Smith: http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/bios/Smith.html

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