The Essence of Protectionism

by Don Boudreaux on March 26, 2016

in Crony Capitalism, Myths and Fallacies, Other People's Money, Trade

Here’s economic historian Bob Higgs, writing insightfully on his Facebook page:

What’s so bad about protectionism? You might as well ask, What’s so bad about extortion or armed robbery? Neither you nor anyone else has a just right to dictate to me with whom or the terms on which I will choose to enter into peaceful exchanges. To suppose that even though you yourself have no such right, your government “representatives” and their agents do have one is to expose the utter vacuousness of your morality and your incapacity for clear thinking.

Many people have argued over the years that U.S. prosperity in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sprang in large part from the high-tariff policies in place during those times. Apart from the economic nonsense this claim exhibits, it is akin to claiming proudly that the great economic success of the mafia in the twentieth century sprang in large part from the organization’s “taxes” (demands for protection money) laid on members of the public.

Yes, whether publicly or privately carried out, crime may pay, at least for some of its perpetrators. But such socially destructive partial “success” is scarcely an emblem of national greatness or sound economic policy, and it definitely testifies to moral confusion or outright culpability.

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