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An Odd Tic

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One of oddest tics exhibited by protectionists who otherwise have pro-free-market sympathies is to insist that the government of their country (say, the United States) use punitive tariffs and other trade restrictions in order to countervail the market-distorting effects of the policies of foreign governments.  There are many problems with this specific argument for protectionism (again, not least that, in practice, it is aimed only at those policies of foreign governments that are believed to artificially lower the prices of those countries’ exports; it is never aimed at those policies of foreign governments that make the prices of those countries’ exports higher).

But here I note only that it is especially odd for people who allegedly understand and celebrate the virtues of free markets to justify protectionist restrictions on the grounds that these restrictions will allegedly countervail or “adjust for” whatever market distortions are (or are asserted to be) unleashed by the economic interventions of foreign governments.  It is odd because these particular protectionists – in the U.S., many conservatives – generally distrust their government to act wisely, prudently, skillfully, knowledgeably, and apolitically when meddling in the economy.  And yet as soon as the stated particular reason for intervention is foreign-government misdeeds that allegedly distort the American market, these free-market types – these free-market conservatives – lose all of their skepticism of their own governments’ abilities to intervene wisely, prudently, skillfully, knowledgeably, and apoloticially.

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