≡ Menu

A Protectionist is Someone Who…

… belies his proclaimed respect for property rights by using a foreign-government’s (actual or merely alleged) violation of property rights as a pretext for his support of the home-government’s violation of property rights.

Consider, for example, the American protectionist’s incessant insistence today that Beijing’s violation of intellectual property rights must be met by Uncle Sam’s punitive tariffs on American-consumers’ purchases of Chinese-assembled goods.

Even if we grant without question that Beijing’s violations of Americans’ IP rights are as real and as extensive as protectionists insist, what legitimate justifications do these violations offer for Washington to violate American consumers’ property rights? Why is Smith’s property right in his income – Smith’s right to spend as he chooses the income that he earns – inferior to Jones’s right in her intellectual property? For every justification that one offers for the economic utility of intellectual property there is a justification to be offered for the economic utility of property rights in one’s income. If economic efficiency is reduced by violations of intellectual property rights, and if ethical norms are offended, so, too, is economic efficiency reduced by tariffs, and ethical norms are offended.

Yes – one can describe hypothetical scenarios in which government A’s violation of its citizens’ rights T prompts government B to stop violating the people-of-A’s rights I. One can describe all sorts of hypothetical scenarios. It is just as easy, note, to describe a hypothetical scenario in which government A’s violation of rights T increases government B’s violation of rights I.

But a solid, golden rule of thumb is that two wrongs don’t make a right. It is inexcusably hypocritical for protectionists to demand that government A violate property right T as means of protecting property right I. This hypocrisy reveals the reality that protectionists don’t actually care about property rights – protectionists are, as they have always been, more than eager to violate property rights. Instead, protectionists merely grasp at whatever excuse is handy and able to be demagogued in order to justify protectionists’ own favored property-rights violations.

Protectionists are seekers of special privileges that allow them to enrich themselves by preying upon their fellow citizens. That’s all protectionists are. They are thugs. They are thugs who, too cowardly actually to steal directly from their victims, outsource the actual carrying out of their thuggery to the state.

It is a sad matter of fact that protectionists often succeed in their attempts to prey on others. But at least we ought not let protectionists sooth what consciences they have by accepting their flimsy excuses for their government-supported predation. If they insist on preying upon us, let’s at a minimum demand that they admit that they are predators rather than champions of fairness, goodness, and prosperity. If protectionists seize our property, let’s at least oblige them to face square-on the raw reality of their predations.

Protectionists care nothing about protecting our property, and so we ought care nothing about protecting their consciences.