Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on August 7, 2018

in Seen and Unseen, Trade

… is from page 115 of the 2015 Matthew Dale translation of Weiying Zhang’s superb 2010 book, The Logic of the Market:

First, reason requires us to detach ourselves from our own status, identity, and interests when evaluating the merits and drawbacks of a reform or policy. We must learn to consider other positions. An old Chinese proverb says, “Consider others when deciding fairness.” For example, if one is a farmer, a worker, a poor person, or a rich person, one cannot consider the interest of only the farmers, the workers, the poor, or the rich….

Of course, in reality, when every new policy is implemented, each person is in a special position, so if change interferes with that person’s interests, complete detachment is very difficult. That reality is precisely why we must emphasize the importance of reason.

DBx: I cannot count the number of times that people respond to my defense of free trade by asking me how I would convince a worker who loses his or her job to imports to support free trade. While nearly everyone who puts this question to me seems to believe that this question carries great ethical and intellectual heft, it’s always struck me as weak and irrelevant.

Of course I understand that someone who loses a job is unhappy. I understand also that such a person is, at least at the moment, unlikely to be roused to carry the banner of free trade. But why should that person’s perspective be given special weight, consideration, and sympathy? I see no reason at all to give this person’s opinion special credence. Indeed, quite the opposite. A person in such a situation is especially likely to be biased in his or her judgment. And since when should we pay special heed to the opinion of someone who is especially likely to be biased by his or her personal circumstances?

Reason – as Zhang points out – is essential to help us to get a perspective and understanding that is as unbiased as is humanly possible.

Protectionism, therefore, is inherently unreasonable. Not only is protectionism driven by the biased, unique circumstances of an especially visible handful of people, those who intellectually champion protectionism typically do so by proudly insisting that the handful of domestic workers and other domestic producers who are visibly helped today by tariffs and other trade restraints deserve to be given consideration above the many unseen and ignored victims of protectionism.


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