… is from an 1876 lecture in New York City, delivered to the International Free-Trade Alliance, by William Graham Sumner; the lecture is entitled “The Establishment of Protection in this Country.” With this quotation Sumner argues against those who advocate protectionism as a means of strengthening a nation’s ability to militarily defend itself against foreign aggressors:
In fact, however, the independence which we seek must be sought another direction. Independent men are those who have wealth, not those whose houses are stored for a siege. Independent nations are those which are wealthy, because they can command what they want when want it. Those will be wealthiest which give industry its freest course in time of peace.
Sumner’s point reminds me of an argument made by my teacher Leland Yeager in this 1954 monograph:
The moral is that the United States should not partially freeze its industry by Protectionist policies into a pattern that might well prove, if war finally came, to be out of date—and all at the cost of a sure loss in real national income. Even from considerations of national defense, it would probably be wiser to adopt Free Trade and other policies contributing to general economic strength and to rely, if war cut off foreign supplies, on the conversion of peacetime industry to wartime purposes that would in any case be necessary.