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A Protectionist is Someone Who…

… believes that national borders emit mystical, potent, and evil powers.  According to the protectionist, if Ann and Bob voluntarily trade with each other while each are in Buffalo, the trade is fine and good: both Ann and Bob gain.  And although Chuck in Charleston is disappointed that Ann bought from Bob rather than from Chuck, even the protectionist doesn’t believe that Chuck has any cause for complaint or that Chuck’s loss of business to Bob is a source of national economic decline.

But let Bob be in Toronto rather than in Buffalo, and – for the protectionist – matters are totally different.  The fact that Ann’s commerce with Bob’s now traverses a political border means, for the protectionist, that that border somehow changes the transaction into one that is harmful to the American economy.  Some mysterious force emanating out of that border transforms Ann’s choosing to buy from Bob in Toronto rather than from Chuck in Charleston an event of grave national concern.  The crossing of that border of Ann’s and Bob’s commerce makes Chuck’s loss of business, for the protectionist, a source of worry for the entire nation.  Chuck himself becomes an object of the protectionist’s pity.  Chuck – the protectionist insists – has been wronged by Bob and, therefore, Ann (!) must be made to pay the price for Bob’s audacity at daring to offer to Ann a deal that Ann finds more attractive than is the deal offered to her by Chuck.

The very same set of commercial transactions – the very same pattern of voluntary buying and selling – is, in the first case, perfectly acceptable and applause-worthy, while in the second case, it is a matter that warrants at least superintendence by government officials and, more likely, obstruction by government officials.  Yet the only difference between the first case and the second case is Bob’s physical location.  In the first case he and Ann are on the same side of a political border while in the second case Bob is on one side of a political border while Ann is on the other side of that border.  The protectionist finds in this difference great and momentous meaning – a fact that implies that the protectionist believes that political borders possess miraculous if mysterious powers, somehow, to fundamentally change the nature and consequences of trade.  (Just what these powers are the protectionist has, for centuries, never been able to adequately explain.  But he nevertheless is dead-certain that these powers are real and dangerous.)