Why It’s Frustrating to Argue with Most Protectionists

by Don Boudreaux on January 12, 2018

in Myths and Fallacies, Trade

It’s inaccurate to describe protectionism, as it is expressed popularly and politically, as a set of fallacious arguments.  Protectionism, as it is expressed popularly and politically, consists of no arguments at all.  Rather, protectionism in popular and political venues appears as nothing but the constant repetition of mistaken assertions, long-discredited “facts,” myopic concerns, and slogans that are as fallacious as they are tired.

Protectionists who chatter or clatter on their keyboards in popular and political venues offer no new arguments.  (They have no new arguments to offer.)  These protectionists simply ignore the solid refutations made of each and every one of their spurious claims and illogical chains of ‘reasoning.’  These protectionists never argue.  They merely repeat, robotically, their irrelevant or disproven assertions — “What about the steel worker who loses his job, huh?!” “If you don’t have a job you can’t can enjoy low prices!” “Free trade requires that all trading partners practice free trade!” “Economic growth in the United States was fueled by high tariffs!” “It’s unfair for our highly taxed and heavily regulated producers to have to compete against competitors who are taxed less highly and regulated less heavily!” “High-wage countries are at a disadvantage when competing against low-wage countries!” (Or, from protectionists in low-wage countries: “With free trade, rich countries unfairly exploit poor countries!”) “Trade should be free only if it is fair (as we protectionists determine what is and isn’t fair)!” “The playing field isn’t level!” “Trade deficits are bad for us!” “Trade deficits are evidence that other countries are cheating at trade!”

This list of ceaselessly repeated assertions and rhetorical questions about trade – each of which has been refuted again and again and again with reason and facts – can be significantly lengthened.

Most protectionists cannot be reasoned out of their belief that protection enriches the masses because most protectionists weren’t reasoned into that belief in the first place.  Protectionism in popular and political practice is merely a foolish dogma, accepted on faith and nurtured by ignorance.  Most of its proponents do not reason or argue; they merely assert and emote.


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