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One Thing is Certain: Defenders of Free Trade Will Never Be Unemployed!

Judging from the quantity of correspondence that I now receive, protectionism scarcityism sure is enjoying a heyday.

Mr. Greg O’Brien

Mr. O’Brien:

Conceding that free trade “might leave total unemployment unaffected in the long run,” you nevertheless accuse me and other “academic free traders” of “callous insensitivity to workers who lose jobs to foreigners.” You then conclude that persons less callous, such as yourself, are justified to support import restrictions.

You are mistaken. I’ve never denied that losing a job is a difficult and often traumatic experience. What I do deny is that free(r) trade with foreigners is unique at destroying particular jobs. And I deny also that workers who lose jobs to imports suffer any more, or more frequently, than do workers who lose jobs to other economic changes – including, by the way, to the economic changes brought about by protectionism.

If protecting workers from losing particular jobs were truly an appropriate role for government, then, in addition to erecting tariffs against imports, government should also restrict the following sorts of activities:

– the sale of used cars (thus saving jobs in the auto industry)

– the recycling of steel and aluminum (thus saving jobs in the steel and aluminum industries)

– antique stores and yard sales (thus saving jobs in the furniture and apparel industries)

– people taking home from restaurants uneaten portions of their meals (thus saving jobs for restaurant and supermarket workers, as well as for farm workers)

– the publication and availability of weight-loss programs, manuals, websites, and apps (ditto)

– the publication of do-it-yourself home-improvement manuals and websites (thus saving jobs for handymen and repairmen)

– anti-smoking campaigns (thus saving jobs for workers in the tobacco industry)

– all technological innovations (thus saving jobs for all manner of workers)

Would you support government efforts to restrict the activities listed above? If not, then there is no reason for you to support government restrictions on the sale of imports.

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


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