… is from Paul Krugman’s brilliant 1996 essay “Ricardo’s Difficult Idea”:
I am convinced that many economists, when they try to argue in favor of free trade, make the mistake of overestimating both their opponents and their audience. They cannot believe that famous intellectuals who write and speak often about world trade could be entirely ignorant of the most basic ideas. But they are – and so are their readers. This makes the task of explaining the benefits of trade harder – but it also means that it is remarkably easy to make fools of your opponents, catching them in elementary errors of logic and fact. This is playing dirty, and I advocate it strongly.
DBx: Yep. But the typical protectionist is so clueless that he himself remains unaware that he has been made a fool of. The value of responding to protectionists is not to change their minds; that task is impossible. The value is to help shield others from falling for protectionist folly.
The protectionist prescribing, as a means of enriching the country, a policy of trade restrictions is no more intellectually respectable than is a sham dietician prescribing, as a means of losing weight, a regimen of ice-cream, donuts, and sleep. While many (although hardly all) protectionists are well-intentioned, their arguments almost never rise above pure quackery. And on those rare occasions when these arguments do rise a bit higher, they are never more than theoretical curiosities.