Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on December 28, 2018

in Myths and Fallacies, Trade

… is from page 38 of James Mill’s 1808 volume, Commerce Defended. An Answer to the Arguments by which Mr. Spence, Mr. Cobbett, and Others, have attempted to Prove that Commerce is not a source of National Wealth:

The commerce of one country with another, is in fact merely an extension of that division of labour by which so many benefits are conferred upon the human race. As the same country is rendered the richer by the trade of one province with another; as its labour becomes thus infinitely more divided, and more productive than it could otherwise have been; and as the mutual supply to each other of all the accommodations which one province has and another wants, multiplies the accommodations of the whole, and the country becomes thus in a wonderful degree more opulent and happy; the same beautiful train of consequences is observable in the world at large, that great empire, of which the different kingdoms and tribes of men may be regarded as the provinces.

DBx: Trade is trade is trade. This truth is one among many that escape protectionists’ understanding. Trade with foreigners is a source of all the same benefits and hopes that arise through trade with fellow citizens. Trade with fellow citizens is a source of all the same ‘costs’ and anxieties – real and imaginary, justified and unjustified – that arise through trade with foreigners.

These days, many American conservatives – those who cheer on Trump’s trade ‘policies’ – have entangled themselves in a deep contradiction. If the commerce in question is among two or more persons each of whom has a passport issued by the United States government, these conservatives demand that this commerce be unregulated and at best only lightly taxed by the state. But if the commerce in question is among people who have passports issued by Uncle Sam, and other people who have passports issued by some other governments, these conservatives – usually with even more gusto – demand that this commerce be regulated heavily and taxed punitively by the state.

These conservatives – like all protectionists of whatever political or ideological stripe – mistake irrelevancies for relevancies. The protectionists’ attempt to elevate to economic and ethical relevance the citizenship or geographical location of the parties to trade makes no more sense than would an attempt to elevate to economic and ethical relevance the sex, eye color, or shoe size of the parties to trade. Yet while anyone who made the latter attempt would properly be ridiculed and dismissed for peddling economic idiocy, those who make the former attempt receive a great deal of acclaim, not only from the general public but also from many professors, preachers, and pundits.


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