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The Ultimate Monument to Status Quo Bias is Protectionism

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Critical of your casting “the Bush administration’s steel tariffs in a negative light,” Dale Fruman insists that those tariffs “saved not only the U.S. steelmaking industry, but innumerable steel fabricators” (Letters, Dec. 7).

Mr. Fruman’s case for tariffs rests on the presumption that consumer choices that destroy existing industries are to be regretted and, therefore, to be obstructed.  We should all be grateful that people such as Mr. Fruman did not have their way a century ago when Henry Ford’s inexpensive automobiles destroyed the American livery-stable industry, or a century and a half ago when John D. Rockefeller’s inexpensive kerosene destroyed the American whaling industry.  Were the likes of Mr. Fruman to have had their way back then, we Americans would still be riding in horse-drawn buggies and lighting our homes with whale oil.

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

Pop Quiz: Why would it be invalid to respond to my letter by insisting that importing a product (steel), rather than making that product in the home country, is different from welcoming the kinds of product-changing innovations (automobiles and kerosene) that I mention in my letter?