… is from page 9 of my great teacher Leland Yeager’s, and David Tuerck’s, superb 1966 book, Trade Policy and the Price System:
Protectionism … means that the government keeps people from trading as they see fit, or fines them for doing so. It protects us less against foreigners than against each other and against our own desires to make advantageous purchases.
DBx: If a gang appears at your door and threatens to unleash violence on you if you insist on conducting your economic affairs along the peaceful lines that you judge best, rather than along the lines demanded by the gang’s leader, you quite correctly do not regard this gang as a “protector” or, indeed, as anything other than a crew of common criminals. And if the gang’s leader then proceeds to attempt to justify the gang’s actions with accounts of how he and his gang are the benevolent servants of this particular seller, of that particular business, or of those particular workers – or, indeed, of you yourself – your assessment of their threats of violence against you does not change: you continue, properly so, to recognize and regard these brutes as the dangerous criminals that they are.
But if the gang’s leader gets all dressed up in a suit and boasts a gaudy political title, and if the gang itself isn’t just a few neighborhood thugs but several thousand well-dressed or impressively uniformed “officials,” somehow, by some strange magic that I do not comprehend, their threats of violence against you become, not criminal activities to be condemned, but “trade policy” to be respected. Papers and books are written to assess the merits or demerits of this “policy.” Econometricians amuse themselves and the media with various reported quantitative measurements of the “costs” and “benefits” of this “policy.” Debates rage over whether or not the “benefits” of the “policy” outweigh the “costs” of the policy.
Yet such “policy” is and remains the coercive interference by the powerful with the peaceful commercial affairs of the less powerful. The only real difference between the neighborhood gang at your front door and the horde of government officials carrying out “trade policy” is that most victims of the latter, unlike the former, are eager to be duped into believing that their victimization is really their economic salvation.