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Economically Farcical and Ethically Foul

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Here’s a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:

Editor:

The GOP effort to allow Pres. Trump, as you describe it, “to raise U.S. tariffs, as he pleases, in retaliation for another country’s tariffs and nontariff barriers” is deeply disturbing (“An ‘Old Testament Approach’ to Trade [2],” Jan. 24). This antediluvian move not only threatens destruction of the post-war system that has made trade freer, it also would make the world – including America – poorer.

But this move does have one advantage: it reveals protectionism’s immorality. Listening to Reps. Sean Duffy’s and Matt Gaetz’s excuses for this move makes clear that protectionism is a philosophy of predatory self-destruction. Protectionism holds that if Dick impoverishes his neighbor Jane by blocking her access to the grocery store owned by Sam, then Sam is ethically entitled to impoverish his neighbor Sally by blocking her access to the clothing store owned by Dick.

That is, protectionism is a doctrine in which Sam is assumed to be ethically more deserving than are Jane and Sally. It treats Jane and Sally – insofar as protectionism even takes notice of their existence – as pawns whose choices and actions are to be obstructed, and whose well-being is to be worsened, if a tale can be spun about how doing so will improve the well-being of Sam. Sam counts for everything; Jane and Sally for nothing.

Protectionism’s economic farcicality is exceeded only by its ethical foulness.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

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