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Protectionists Tell Only Half of the Story

Here’s a letter to a young woman, Ms. Emily Shin, from California who is a senior in high school and who tells me that she’d like to study economics at George Mason!

Ms. Shin:

Thanks for your e-mail. I’m honored that you read Café Hayek, and I’d very much love to have you one day as a student in my classes!

Your question is excellent: “What is the one deepest mistake made by persons who fight against free trade?”

Ethically, it is to suppose that some people – specifically, government officials or those who are in today’s political majority – have a right to interfere with the peaceful commercial choices of other people. I believe that such interference is predatory despite it being cloaked in officialdom’s costume.

Economically, the single deepest mistake committed by opponents of free trade is difficult to identify because they commit so very many mistakes. But obliged to choose just one, I offer this mistake: protectionists see only the specific jobs and businesses that international trade ‘destroys.’ Protectionists are blind to the specific jobs and businesses that international trade creates.

As a result of their blindness, protectionists tell literally only half of the story. If protectionists were to recite, say, the story in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in the same way that they recite the story of trade, their audiences would be left with the impression that Ebenezer Scrooge remained a scrooge forever and that young Tiny Tim died an excruciatingly horrible death – obviously, an impression completely the opposite of reality.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
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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