Protectionism is a Bad Religion

by Don Boudreaux on December 26, 2017

in Trade

I am neither protectionist nor religious.  But if I were both protectionist and a member of one of the many religions whose adherents believe that god answers humans’ prayers, I’d be troubled by my inconsistency.

Sincere protectionists believe that any decrease in scarcity brought about by a non-fellow-citizen is a problem so severe that it must be combatted with government force.  This belief is especially strong if the non-fellow-citizen decreases scarcity in the home country in return for virtually nothing from citizens of the home country: for protectionists, the greatest economic sin that a foreigner can commit against the good people of the home country is for that foreigner to export goods or services to the home country and to ask for nothing in return.

Sincere protectionists, therefore, should be opposed to prayer – or, at least, to the actions of any god or gods who answer people’s prayers.  The woman of faith who prays for god to cure her cancer is asking a foreigner to deliver, free of charge, to the home economy a valuable service – a service that, if rendered, artificially reduces the demand for the services of domestic suppliers such as physicians, nurses, and pharmacies.  The devout man who prays for god to save his home from being destroyed by a wildfire is asking a foreigner to deliver, free of charge, to the home economy a valuable service – a service that, if rendered, artificially reduces the demand for the services of domestic suppliers of the likes of building materials, carpentry, masonry, and plumbing.  The religious student who prays to god for a passing grade in a calculus course is asking a foreigner to deliver, free of charge, to the home economy a valuable service – a service that, if rendered, artificially reduces the demand for the services of tutors, as well as of authors and publishers of study-guides.

Not all protectionists are religious, and so these protectionists are not guilty of the inconsistency identified here.  Similarly, not all religious people are protectionists; they, too, are not guilty of the inconsistency identified here.  But many other people are, at the same time, protectionist and devout believers in a god who answers prayers.  These protectionists are deeply inconsistent: if their economics is correct, they should pray only that their god never answers prayers; yet if their theology is correct, they should at least seriously consider rejecting protectionism.

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