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Quotation of the Day…

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… is from page 65 of the 1987 Liberty Fund edition of Helmut Schoeck’s 1966 book, Envy [2]:

But here the benign effects of anonymous mass production of all imaginable goods becomes apparent, for it enables us to purchase virtually anything without having to reckon with the envy of the producer. The romantically inclined, who still continue to regret the days when nearly every commodity had to be purchased from an individual maker, have no idea how subtly the relations between producer and customer strangled the free circulation of goods.

DBx: Protectionism taps into the sentiment that leads many of us, as buyers, to feel some personal, non-economic obligation to patronize suppliers whom we know personally. The counsel to “buy American” is meant to make American consumers feel guilty if and when we Americans buy imports rather than goods produced by fellow Americans, for whom – the implication goes – we have some personal non-economic obligation. In this way as in so many others, protectionism is atavistic: among its ill consequences is a reduction of the benefits that we as buyers receive from having access to a wide range of suppliers with whom we deal at arm’s length.

In fact, protectionism is even worse than were the pre-mass-market face-to-face exchanges among acquaintances. In those pre-mass-market exchanges the non-economic sentiments were likely reciprocal: sellers felt non-economic obligations toward buyers just as buyers felt non-economic obligations toward sellers. In contrast, producers today who are shielded by tariffs or other trade restrictions from the competition of foreign rivals feel no obligations toward buyers. Indeed, at the core of protectionism is the presumption that buyers are obliged to serve sellers. Protectionists implicitly believe that domestic producers are legally and ethically entitled to some minimum amount of patronage from domestic consumers.

Protectionism is predation. Domestic producers use the state to forcibly prevent fellow citizens from spending their money – the money earned and owned by fellow citizens – as fellow citizens choose. That’s the bottom line. That’s protectionism’s raw, unadorned, ugly reality.

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