… is fond of denying that the ultimate end of economic activity is consumption. As a protectionist, he wishes to promote his favored producer activity as being no less an end – indeed, as perhaps being an even higher-ranking end – than is consumption. The reason, of course, is that if the protectionist can persuade others that his favored producer activity is an ultimate end of economic activity, then any changes in consumer spending that reduce the demand for that producer activity no longer are ethically determinative. In the protectionist’s mind, the consumer is at least as much obliged to act in ways that promote the producer’s interest as is the producer to act it ways that promote the consumer’s interest.
But despite the protectionist’s incessantly trumpeted denial that consumption is the ultimate purpose of economic activity, he doesn’t really believe his denial. Or at any rate, he never acts in ways that are consistent with this denial.
Want powerful evidence of the protectionist’s insincerity? Look no further than the fact that the protectionist demands protection from foreign competition. If production truly were for the protectionist an ultimate end, producers subject to increased competition from foreign rivals would nevertheless continue to produce at rates undiminished in the face of increased imports. Workers in those industries would willingly take pay cuts – or even positively pay – in order to continue to produce the outputs that they produce. Ditto for the owners of the firms in those industries that compete with imports.
But of course producers – workers and business owners – are not willing to continue to produce at undiminished rates if that which their production enables them to consume falls significantly. Production for these people is not truly an end itself; it is merely a means. The end – the object of their production activities – is their consumption, despite the protectionist’s febrile denials.