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Some Probing Questions for Protectionists

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Suppose that Toyota, starting in 2018, offers for sale in America a car that reduces its occupants’ risks of being killed or injured by at least 90 percent compared to any other automobile that is or ever has been sold on the market.  Suppose further that this car, assembled in Japan, is otherwise indistinguishable from the mid-price car models sold by General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler in its performance, in its fuel economy and other costs of operation, in its comfort, in its amenities, and – importantly – in its price.  That is, this newly introduced Toyota model is pretty much a routine new mid-price car sold in America today save for one remarkable feature: its occupants’ chances of being killed or injured are 90 percent lower than what those chances are in other cars.

This remarkably safe new Toyota model, although selling at a nominal price comparable to that of an ordinary new Ford Fusion, Buick LaCrosse, Chrysler 200, or other new mid-price cars, is a far better bargain than is each of these other cars; American consumers get far more value for their dollars by buying this new, remarkably safe Toyota model than by buying a more conventional model, such as a Ford Fusion, in the same price range.  And, therefore, because American consumers get so much more for their dollars by buying this new Toyota car than by buying any Ford, G.M., or Chrysler product, consumer demand for this new Toyota car will skyrocket and thereby drain consumer demand away from U.S. car makers.  Indeed, let’s make the entirely plausible assumption that the introduction into the American market of this new, remarkably safe Toyota car drains so much demand away from G.M., Ford, and Chrysler that these American car makers suffer huge losses and must lay of thousands of hard-working, honest, always-played-by-the-rules American workers.

I have some questions for protectionists who believe that the United States government should prevent foreign producers from “dumping” imports in America.  Let’s begin with: Should the U.S. government impose a punitive tariff on this new and remarkably safe foreign-assembled car (that is, really, on Americans who choose to purchase this new and remarkably safe foreign-assembled car)?

If you – Mr. or Ms. Protectionist – are hesitating to answer this question, let me add another assumption: Suppose that it is also indisputably true that Toyota was able to develop and implement the technology to produce and offer for sale such a remarkably safe car only because it received massive direct subsidies from the Japanese government.  Do you now believe that Uncle Sam should protect U.S. automakers from the competition of this new Toyota model by taxing at punitive rates any and all purchases that Americans make of this new Toyota model?

If you answer “no,” then why do you believe that Uncle Sam should tax at punitive rates any and all purchases that Americans make of foreign goods that are sold in the U.S. at prices deemed by Uncle Sam to be ‘too low’?  Why do you not see that quality that is ‘too high’ (at a given price) is the very same phenomenon as prices that are ‘too low’ (with given quality)?

If you answer “yes,” can you explain why you’re willing to forcibly penalize Americans from taking actions that dramatically reduce – and at no additional costs to them – their and their families’ risks of being killed or injured simply because those actions involve buying a foreign-assembled car whose remarkable safety features are made possible by foreign-government subsidies?  Are you really so inhumane as to deny individuals the opportunity to save their and their loved-ones’ lives and limbs simply on the grounds that those individuals, in taking such actions, cause some other individuals to lose their jobs?

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