Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on October 20, 2018

in Myths and Fallacies, Trade, Truth-seeking & ideology

… is from William Graham Sumner’s Preface to his 1885 book, Protectionism: the -ism Which Teaches that Waste Makes Wealth:

Protectionism arouses my moral indignation. It is a subtle, cruel, and unjust invasion of one man’s rights by another. It is done by force of law. It is at the same time a social abuse, an economic blunder, and a political evil. The moral indignation which it causes is the motive which draws me away from the scientific pursuits which form my real occupation, and forces me to take part in a popular agitation. The doctrine of a “call” applies in such a case, and every man is bound to take just so great a share as falls in his way.

DBx: The human mind is creative. It often creates marvelous things that improve human welfare – things such as reinforced concrete, refrigeration, antibiotics, inexpensive internal-combustion engines, smart phones, wine, and automatic washing machines. Yet it often creates means of reducing human welfare. Excuses for war are at the top of the list of these latter, destructive things. But up there as well is protectionism.

Protectionists tirelessly employ lazily done analyses, half-truths, logical fallacies, historical misunderstandings, legerdemain, and sometimes even outright lies in their attempts to justify their absurd assertion that out of artificially increased scarcity will come artificially increased abundance. My sense, from having dealt for decades now with protectionists, is that a large but still-minority portion of them sing from the protectionist hymnal merely because doing so will promote their narrow material self-interest. These protectionists would be free-traders if their self-interest was best promoted by free trade. They would be advocates of establishing zoroastrianism as the state religion if they believed that their self-interest was best promoted by zoroastrianism.

In contrast, the majority of protectionists strike me as being sincere in their belief in protectionist myths but not very intelligent and poorly informed about history. These protectionists consistently reveal their lack of interest in intellectual and ethical consistency. They cannot think beyond the first impressions that strike their minds. They are easily entranced by intellectual mirages. They seldom show evidence that they actually listen to, and understand, the best arguments offered in support of free trade. They behave as if constant repetition of fallacies and falsehoods turns these into truths. And protectionists either cannot add or have the bizarre belief that reality becomes immune from the laws of arithmetic whenever commerce crosses political borders.


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