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Fear of the Future Helps to Fuel Protectionism and Many Other Government Interventions

In my latest column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I blame fear of the future for policies that make the future more fearful.  A slice:

Nearly every popular economic fallacy reflects fear of the future. Although unjustified, such fear is understandable. We’re familiar with, and have more or less adjusted to, what exists. But we don’t know the future, so it frightens us.

Consider, for example, international trade. When Americans buy more imports, a typical and immediate effect is destruction of some existing U.S. jobs. Likewise for new labor-saving techniques. In both cases, economic theory and history make clear that new and better jobs are eventually created and living standards improve.

Economics and history also make clear that to prevent such trade- and technology-induced job churn is to stifle economic growth. The more unrelenting and widespread are policies that prevent this job churn, the more surely almost everyone is condemned to a future of poverty. (If you doubt me, consider that in 1860, about half of all American jobs were in agriculture. Now ask how prosperous we would be today if our government back then had successfully protected agricultural jobs from being destroyed by then-emerging technologies such as long-distance rail transport, refrigeration and chemical fertilization.)

People who demand economic growth while decrying economic change and its disruptions are deeply inconsistent.