… is from Treasury secretary Albert Gallatin‘s December 18th, 1807, letter to President Thomas Jefferson warning Jefferson of the likely ill consequences that would be unleashed by Jefferson’s embargo on Americans’ foreign trade; this quotation is found on page 102 of Douglas Irwin’s remarkable new (2017) history of the United States’s trade policy, Clashing Over Commerce:
Government prohibitions do always more mischief than had been calculated and it is not without much hesitation that a statesman should hazard to regulate the concerns of individuals as if he could do it better than themselves.
DBx: In his book, Irwin makes clear that both Jefferson and Madison talked much better about trade than they, as government officials, behaved regarding trade. Jefferson, regrettably, did not heed Gallatin’s wise advice to go lightly with the embargo. (By the way, Irwin also makes clear that the standard portrait of Alexander Hamilton as a strong advocate of protectionism is somewhat cartoonish.)
In my most recent column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review – a column inspired by Doug’s book – I recount that even as great a man as Thomas Jefferson acted and sounded like a banana-republic strongman when he pressed ever-harder to make his embargo ‘work.’