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Put Your Wages Where Your Mouth Is

Here’s a letter to a relatively new patron of Cafe Hayek, Joanna Savoie:

Ms. Savoie:

You support “some tariffs” because you find merit in “arguments like that of Oren Cass that honest work holds intrinsic value which free trade frequently neglects or devalues.”

I’m afraid that I’m persuaded neither by you nor by Mr. Cass.

First, job churn is an inseparable feature of a market economy, and would exist even if we Americans completely stop trading with non-Americans. I see no economic or ethical reason for government to single-out for special protection the relatively small number of workers in America whose jobs are churned by international trade.

Second and more fundamentally, to the extent that some workers do find sufficient intrinsic value in their current jobs to justify their keeping these jobs, these workers would be willing to have their pay cut to levels that make their continued employment profitable for their employers. But workers seeking protection from imports aren’t willing to put their money where their alleged intrinsic values are. By demanding to keep their jobs without having their pay cut, these workers reveal that they in fact don’t attach much intrinsic value to their jobs; they instead are working principally for their wages.

There is nothing wrong with someone working principally for wages. But there is very much wrong with someone who, with one breath, insists that his job has a great deal of “intrinsic value,” and with the next breath demands tariffs to shift to consumers the cost of enabling this worker to continue to enjoy the “intrinsic value” of working in his current job. Far from honorable and admirable, such a worker is a hypocrite and a parasite.

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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