… is from page 641 of Douglas Irwin’s marvelous 2017 volume, Clashing Over Commerce (footnote omitted); Doug is here writing about the 1993 debate in the United States Congress over NAFTA:
Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IL) gave a spirited defense of the agreement, pleading with his colleagues, “Do not sacrifice the jobs of tomorrow to the fears of today.” He drew laughter for his description of “the three most famous non-elected opponents of NAFTA: Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and Ralph Nader – the Groucho, Chico, and Harpo of the NAFTA opposition” (a reference to the Marx Brothers comedy trio) whose “only response to the challenges of global competition is to retreat, whine, and whimper.”
DBx: Michel is correct that popular opposition to free trade is largely rooted in the unwarranted fear of economic change generally and, more specifically, in the myth that there is something uniquely dangerous about economic change that is fueled by competition and commerce that crosses political borders.
Note, though, that Robert Michel isn’t quite correct that these opponents of freer trade want only to “retreat, whine, and whimper.” Each individual acting in his or her own private sphere does have the option of retreating, whining, and whimpering (with the “retreating” option thankfully seldom exercised). But all opponents of free trade want actively to use coercion – or credible threats of coercion – to obstruct their fellow citizens’ peaceful commerce with foreigners. And all opponents of free trade falsely demonize foreigners for the alleged offense of making goods and services available to buyers in the home country more abundant and less pricey.
If protectionism were merely a comedy skit played out on stage, screen, or YouTube by talented comics such as the Marx Brothers, it would be funny. Professional comedians could elicit audiences’ uproarious laughter by exposing protectionism’s inherent illogic and by making good use of the clownish mask that it wears in public. Unfortunately, protectionism is real. It is coercion that the state credibly threatens to inflict on its own citizens in order to worsen those citizens’ economic opportunities. The fact that the state and protectionism’s apologists successfully convince protectionism’s many victims that they – the victims – will be enriched by their victimization only adds a measure of absurdity to the entire corrupt and scandalous operation.