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Protecting Powerful Political Interests

Here’s a letter to the New York Sun:

Chuck Schumer has a long track record as both an opponent of free trade and as a successful politician.  You’re therefore surely correct that Mr. Schumer will advise his fellow Democrats to win more votes by warmly embracing protectionist policies (“Smoot Schumer’s Next Move,” Nov. 30) – policies that, while economic idiocy for society writ large, are gold for the politically potent corporations who are shielded from competition by the tariffs that Mr. Schumer champions.

Of course, Mr. Schumer likely knows that his arguments in support of protectionism are absurd.  But he doesn’t care: such policies strengthen his power base.  As the great Gustave de Molinari observed more than a century ago about the case for protectionism: “These are arguments for show.  The most ardent defenders of the protective tariff do not take them seriously….  Protectionism is nothing but political power placed in the service of certain political interests in opposition to the general interest.”*  Indeed so.  And Mr. Schumer is nothing if not a magnificent servant of political interests.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* See paragraph II.5 here.

By the way, a splendid annotated bibliography of Molinari’s work is offered here by David Hart.