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Protectionism is Robbery

Two people (Jones and Smith), each owning some things that are valued by the other, meet in an exchange situation.  Jones proposes to transfer to Smith ownership of something that Jones now owns but that Smith also values.  Jones of course wants something from Smith in return.  And naturally Jones wants as much as possible from Smith.  So Jones proposes that Smith not only give Jones some of Smith’s money in exchange for what Jones will transfer to Smith, but also that Smith sleep with Jones as part of the bargain.  Smith refuses, saying that she’ll pay the monetary price but does not agree also to have sex with Jones as part of the deal.

Jones, not wishing to lose Smith as a customer, says to Smith “Okay, I ask only the money price.  You don’t have also to sleep with me.”  Smith then agrees to this revised, less-costly bargain.  Smith pays some of her money over to Jones and Jones transfers the merchandise to Smith.

Later that day, Jones goes to the town’s strongman, Clump, and informs Clump that he, Jones, is unhappy with the terms of exchange that he, Jones, struck earlier that day with Smith.  “I want Smith also to sleep with me,” Jones tells Clump.

Clump – a pro-business brute – sympathizes.  “Leave it to me,” Clump assures Jones.

Clump and his goons then march to Smith’s house and order her, on pain of having the merchandise that she earlier bought from Jones confiscated from her possession, to sleep with Smith.


Although the details differ in inessential ways, the above little parable captures the essence of protectionism – which is a policy of the state forcing consumers into terms of exchange with domestic merchants that consumers do not voluntarily agree to.  I explain further in my most recent column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.  A slice:

When politicians promise to raise tariffs on imports, they are promising to penalize you for spending too little of your money on products sold by domestic suppliers. The presumption is that domestic suppliers of steel, of textiles or of tires are entitled to a portion of your income. And if you, by buying goods from foreign suppliers, refuse to turn over that portion of your income to domestic suppliers, you must pay a penalty.

Clearly, supporters of tariffs believe that certain domestic producers have a higher claim on some portion of your income than you have.