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The Immorality of Protectionism

Here’s a letter that I sent two years ago to the Wall Street Journal (HT to my buddy Kerry Dugas for digging it up and noting its relevance in light of my recent discussion with Lou Dobbs):

Carlos Gutierrez and Arnold Schwarzenegger justifiably point out many of the economic advantages of free trade (“Keep America Open to Trade,” May 12). The case against protectionism is significantly strengthened by such consequentialist arguments – arguments that I and other economists routinely and proudly employ.

But let’s never forget that protectionism is also immoral.  It is immoral for anyone or any collective forcibly to obstruct peaceful exchanges between two parties merely because a political border separates these parties from each other.  If it is legal and proper for me to buy widgets, my choice of which widget supplier to patronize should be mine and mine alone.  Likewise, the terms on which we deal are no one’s business but my own and that supplier’s.

Protectionists, at root, are thugs.

Donald J. Boudreaux