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Ad Hominem Is a Fallacy, Not an Argument

Here’s a letter to my insistent correspondent Nolan McKinney:

Mr. McKinney:

Of all the countless fallacious arguments for protectionism, none is more illogical than the one that you offer in your e-mail today – namely, that because “Secretary Wilbur Ross is a successful businessman his understanding of trade [is] rich and reliable” while my and other “ivory tower professors’” understanding of trade “is shallow, not very trustworthy.”

Forget that if you really wish to determine the merits of protectionism on the basis of just how successful are the business people who support it, I can trump (!) you by pointing to a businessman who is far more successful than Ross (or Trump) yet who opposes protectionism.

But any such ‘my business person is bigger than your business person’ game is childish.  Let’s not play it.  Instead, I note simply that to argue that protectionism is good for the country because a successful businessman (especially one, such as Ross, whose fortune itself was swelled by tariffs) supports it is no more logical than to argue that burglary is good for the country because a successful burglar supports it.

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