Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on February 26, 2017

in Economics, Myths and Fallacies, Science, Trade

… is from pages 33-34 my great teacher Leland Yeager’s 1954 monograph, Free Trade: America’s Opportunity, which is now available free on-line from Liberty Fund (original emphasis):

Unknown-2The Protectionist actually takes pride in his narrow viewpoint.  He sticks to plain facts — clear examples of benefit from Protection or of damage from foreign competition.  He does not concern himself with remote, intangible, theoretical consequences.  Thank God, he is no impractical theorist who never met a payroll!  If he happens to be a watch lobbyist, he must struggle for patience with the poor understanding of Congressmen who never had practical experience in retailing watches.  If he is a fishing-tackle man, he pities the ignorance of trade-agreements negotiators who never had practical experience in manufacturing fishing tackle.  He scorns the theorist’s “over-all” view of the economic system and sticks to the down-to-earth case-by-case approach.  In so doing, he refuses to consider the decisive heart of the tariff controversy.

[Leland then quotes Norman Campbell, What is Science? (1952)]:

The plain man — I do not think that this is an overstatement — calls a “theory” anything he does not understand, especially if the conclusions it is used to support are distasteful to him….  It is only because he does not understand “theory” that the plain man is apt to compare it unfavorably with “practice,” by which he means what he can understand.

The practical man is apt to sneer at the theorist; but an examination of any of his most firmly-rooted prejudices would show at once that he himself is as much a theorist as the purest and most academic student; theory is a necessary instrument of thought in disentangling the amazingly complex relations of the external world.  But while his theories are false because he never tests them properly, the theories of science are continually under constant test and only survive if they are true.  It is the practical man and not the student of pure science who is guilty of relying on extravagant speculation, unchecked by comparison with solid fact.

For all his vaunted realism, the Protectionist theorizes without knowing it.  Furthermore, his haphazard theories are far less able to stand inspection than those of the trained theorists whom he scorns.  The Protectionist sees the economic system as ever-threatened by unfair competition, cheap foreign labor, dumping, spreading pools of unemployment, and stagnation. Shaky as his theories are, they are the ones that carry weight among self-styled “practical” men.

DBx: What Leland says.  And what Norman Campbell says.

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