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Protectionism Is Anything But ‘Neighborly’

Here’s a letter to a first-time correspondent:

Mr. Gavin Berry

Mr. Berry:

In your e-mail you argue that protectionism is justified because ordinary people have “a strong sense of community” that “leads them to look out for each other.”

Like you, I applaud those who have a strong sense of community; like you, I admire people who look out for their friends and neighbors.  But I disagree that protectionism is a manifestation of such neighborliness and community spirit.

It’s true that protectionism prevents Jones from losing his current job – yet it does so by preventing Smith from spending her money as she sees fit.  Jones uses state coercion to prevent Smith from buying outputs that compete with outputs supplied by Jones.  Jones’s use of coercion against Smith reduces the value of Smith’s income by denying to her some economic options that she would otherwise choose.  Jones’s coercion is anything but neighborly.

Jones, of course, wants us to think that protectionism is neighborly.  He points out, correctly, that the higher prices that neighbor Smith pays are a benefit to him (Jones).  But Jones is cold-bloodedly indifferent to protectionism’s reduction in neighbor Smith’s real income, as well as to protectionism’s denial of the better economic opportunity that neighbor Johnson would enjoy were not Smith forced to pay artificially high prices to support Jones.

Good neighbors join voluntarily and peacefully with each other to improve their communities; they don’t coerce and impoverish some of their members in order to artificially enrich other of their members.

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