Bonus Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on October 12, 2018

in Growth, Myths and Fallacies, Trade

… is from chapter 3 of William Graham Sumner’s 1885 book, Protectionism: the -ism Which Teaches that Waste Makes Wealth (internal citations and footnote omitted):

The protectionists say that their system advances civilization inside a state and makes it great, but the facts are all against them. It was by trade that civilization was extended over the earth. It was through the contact of trade that the more civilized nations transmitted to others the alphabet, weights and measures, knowledge of astronomy, divisions of time, tools and weapons, coined money, systems of numeration, treatment of metals, skins, and wool, and all the other achievements of knowledge and invention which constitute the bases of our civilization. On the other hand, the nations which shut themselves up and developed an independent and self contained civilization (China and Japan) present us the types of arrested civilization and stereotyped social status. It is the penalty of isolation and of withdrawal from the giving and taking which properly bind the whole human race together, that even such intelligent and highly endowed people as the Chinese should find their high activity arrested at narrow limitations on every side. They invent coin, but never get beyond a cast copper coin. They invent gunpowder but can not make a gun. They invent movable types, but only the most rudimentary book. They discover the mariner’s compass, but never pass the infancy of ship-building.

DBx: Those protectionists who are not merely venal rent-seekers eager to latch on any excuse for using state power to enrich themselves at the expense of their fellow citizens are deeply uninformed about society, economics, and history. They see greater abundance as a curse and tighter ties of mutual cooperation with foreigners as a threat. These protectionists are blind to all but the most immediate consequences of trade and protectionism. And, ignorant of their vast ignorance and blind to their blindness, they continue to imagine that their puny and illogical objections to free trade are somehow magnificent and effective.


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