Here’s a letter to the Huffington Post:
Arguing for greater U.S. protectionism, Ian Fletcher asserts that the Great Britain of Adam Smith’s day owed its historically unprecedented economic growth to protectionist policies (“In Praise of Mercantilism (or Why Economic History Isn’t Boring),” Feb. 25). Forget that the only evidence offered for this thesis is that 17th- and 18th-century Great Britain (like nearly every other country on earth) was ‘protected’ by a welter of both mercantilist and natural restraints on international trade. Instead, focus on the fact that, if Mr. Fletcher’s thesis is correct, the implications he draws from it are far too modest.
Great Britain’s population in the mid-18th century was about 6.5 million. Arizona, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Tennessee today each have populations about that size; 12 other states have even larger populations. So if trade barriers erected around populations of at least 6.5 million people increase the economic prosperity of those people, Mr. Fletcher should propose that Congress allow citizens of populous states such as Arizona, California, and New Jersey each to erect tariff walls around their respective states. Such tariffs would, according to Mr. Fletcher’s interpretation of the historical record, promote for Arizonans, Californians, New Jerseyites, and citizens of other populous states rates of economic growth and levels of economic prosperity higher than these citizens can achieve being burdened, as they are now, with the ability to trade freely with citizens of all 50 states.
Donald J. Boudreaux