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Quotation of the Day…

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… is from page xii of Columbia University economics professor Arvind Panagariya’s forthcoming book, Free Trade and Prosperity [2]; the asymmetry to which Panagariya refers is the heavy burden of persuasion that protectionists insist be met by free traders relative to the light – indeed gossamer flimsy – burden of persuasion that protectionists believe they must meet in order to establish their case:

To appreciate the asymmetry, suppose for moment the we were to ask the opponents to provide evidence causally linking high and rising protection to faster growth and declining poverty ratios. Will they be up to the task? Not by a long shot. Indeed, deep down, the opponents know that systematic evidence connecting high or increased protection to superior growth and poverty outcomes cannot be found, and that is the reason they have never looked for it. I know of no serious econometric study that even attempts to find such a link.

DBx: Protectionists will protest. They’ll point to this industry that was ‘saved’ by tariffs, to that country that grew while its government imposed taxes on residents who purchased foreign-made goods, and to this or that ‘scholar’ whose faulty reasoning or legerdemain fools the gullible into supposing that a solid case has been made against a policy of free trade. And so pointing, protectionists will then declare victory, and supply yet again powerful evidence that they are poor thinkers who hold themselves to laughably low standards.

But I repeat here something that I’ve written earlier. In a small way I pity protectionists, for their task is to prove both that 2+2=1 and 5-2=8. This task – to describe it mildly – is more than daunting. My pity for protectionists, however, is indeed only small. For one thing, protectionists volunteer for this task. In addition, protectionists have a ready audience for their fallacies because the world is filled with people eager to believe that two plus two does indeed equal one, and that five minus two does indeed equal eight.