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Wealth Destruction “Done Well” Is Still Destructive

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Greg Ip is correct that some protectionist measures are worse than other such measures (“Trump Shows How Not to Be a Protectionist,” May 31). But he is highly misleading when he describes the latter measures as “protectionism done well.” Protectionism, by its nature – and no matter how “well” it is done – is public policy done poorly.

Protectionism artificially decreases material abundance in countries whose governments practice it. Protectionism bestows special, monopoly-like privileges on particular domestic producers at the larger expense of other industries and of consumers. Protectionism diverts resources into wasteful competition for the favor of government officials and away from productive competition for the favor of consumers. Protectionism substitutes the arbitrary diktats of politicians and bureaucrats, each playing with other people’s money, for the choices of countless consumers and businesses all spending their own money.

And so just as, say, burgling homes, compared to armed robbery, is theft “done well,” this fact hardly compels us to tolerate, and much less to cheer, burglary. All theft is bad, period. Likewise, all protectionism is bad, period. Or as my Mercatus Center colleague Christine McDaniel says, “Good protectionism is protecting ourselves from protectionists. Throw Them Out.”

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