… is from a speech delivered by Richard Cobden in Manchester on January 15, 1846; the speech – titled “Free Trade With All Nations ” – was delivered to an audience sympathetic to free trade:
I don’t intend to go into an argument to convince any man here that protection to all must be protection to none. It takes from one man’s pocket, and allows him to compensate himself by taking an equivalent from another man’s pocket, and if that goes on in a circle through the whole community, it is only a clumsy process of robbing all to enrich none, and simply has this effect, that it ties up the hands of industry in all directions.
DBx: Any particular protectionist policy sits somewhere on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is a scheme of protectionism in which government officials have great discretion in doling out the privilege of tariffs. Some producers get protected; others don’t. Here, the few rob the many.
At the other end of the spectrum, government officials have no discretion in doling out the privilege of tariffs because all industries are equally protected, to the same degree, by tariffs from import competition. Here, everyone robs everyone.
Pick any point along this spectrum, and you’ll find – in practice – some people robbing others but not themselves being robbed; other people robbing others while they themselves also are robbed; and yet other people who do no robbing but who are robbed.
What you’ll not find anywhere along this spectrum is a point at which no robbery occurs, for protectionism is in essence a scheme of organized theft.
Protectionists, as has often been observed, have the ethics of thugs. Regardless of their legerdemain or their excuses – or even their felt intent – they are all apologists for plunderers.