≡ Menu

D.J. Trump Is No Modern-Day W.G. Sumner

Here’s a letter to IPI PolicyBytes:

Merrill Matthews commits a rare error in writing that the election of Donald Trump heralds a return to the original understanding of William Graham Sumner’s term “the forgotten man” (“Taxpayers are the Real Forgotten Man,” Feb. 28).

It’s true that Sumner introduced the term “forgotten man” in 1883 to remind us of the overlooked decent and hard-working people whom the government taxes, pushes, and prods in order to acquire the resources and create the privileges that it then bestows on those who do not earn these things.  It’s also true that a half-century later F.D.R. used this term in a way quite at odds with Sumner’s use of the term.

But it is untrue that when Trump now claims to champion “the forgotten man” that Trump’s use, as Mr. Matthews puts it, “seems to return to the original.”

Central to Trump’s worldview is his belief in the economic and ethical merits of economic protectionism.  Yet no policy received more withering criticism from Sumner than protectionism.  In “The Forgotten Man,” Sumner complained that “The biggest job of all is a protective tariff. This device consists in delivering every man over to be plundered by his neighbor and in teaching him to believe that it is a good thing for him and his country because he may take his turn at plundering the rest.”

No man or woman is more forgotten than is he or she who pays higher prices because of tariffs – who cannot get financing for his or her business because protectionist policies stem the inward flow of capital from abroad – who doesn’t land a good job because someone else’s job is protected by import restrictions – whose wage is kept artificially low because countervailing duties keep another worker’s wage artificially high – whose family goes without because customs agents prevent imports from coming in.

Trump’s disregard for the victims of protectionism renders him utterly unworthy to be described as a modern-day champion of the forgotten people, and of the noble principles, that were so ably defended by William Graham Sumner.

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