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Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 79-80 of the original edition of Henry Hazlitt’s classic 1946 volume, Economics in One Lesson; this section occurs in the context of Hazlitt using foreign-made sweaters as an example of imports into the U.S. obstructed by trade barriers erected by Uncle Sam:

For the erection of tariff walls has the same effect as the erection of real walls.  It is significant that the protectionists habitually use the language of warfare.  They talk of “repelling an invasion” of foreign products.  And the means they suggest in the fiscal field are like those of the battlefield.  The tariff barriers that are put up to repel this invasion are like the tank traps, trenches and barbed-wire entanglements created to repel or slow down attempted invasion by a foreign army.

And just as the foreign army is compelled to employ more expensive means to surmount these obstacles – bigger tanks, mine detectors, engineer corps to cut wires, ford streams and build bridges – so more expensive and efficient transportation means must be developed to surmount tariff obstacles.  One the one hand, we try to reduce the cost of transportation between England and America, or Canada and the United States, by developing faster and more efficient planes and ships, better roads and bridges, better locomotives and motor trucks.  On the other hand, we offset this investment in efficient transportation by a tariff that makes it commercially even more difficult to transport goods than it was before.  We make it a dollar cheaper to ship the sweaters, and then increase the tariff by two dollars to prevent the sweaters from being shipped.  By reducing the freight that can be profitably carried, we reduce the value of the investment in transportation efficiency.

Those “Progressives” who simultaneously complain about America’s ‘crumbling’ infrastructure (and, hence, who demand more government investment in building infrastructure) and complain about American jobs being ‘destroyed’ by trade with people outside of America (and, hence, who demand higher tariffs and other trade ‘protections’) should think through the tension identified here by Hazlitt in their set of complaints.


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