≡ Menu

Quotation of the Day…

… is from pages 94-95 of C. Donald Johnson’s 2018 book, The Wealth of a Nation: A History of Trade Politics in America (footnote deleted):

The first Republican chairman of Ways and Means, John Sherman of Ohio, the brother of Major General William T. Sherman, had built his political career upon protection of American industrial interests and fierce opposition to the Democratic Party. Under his leadership, the committee instructed Justin Morrill, the New England protectionist, to construct new tariff legislation as soon as the Republicans took control of Congress. By the time the Morrill Bill finally passed the Senate in 1861, a swarm of domestic protectionist interests latched onto the measure, attaching amendment after amendment in a feeding frenzy that even shocked Morrill.

DBx: There are at least two obvious take-aways from this bit of history. First, John Sherman, who 29 years later as a U.S. Senator would weld his name to the nation’s first national antitrust statute, was no friend of competition or of consumers. Being a protectionist, he was to both an enemy.

Second, protectionism is political. One can publish academic papers describing any number of scenarios that in theory render some protectionism ‘in the national interest.’ But trade policy is made neither in the pages of academic journals nor in collegiate lecture halls – and trade policy is made neither by brilliant researchers nor by apolitical agents of The People. In reality, trade policy is made in government offices by political animals who care, above all, about their prospects of re-election – and, hence, who are marvelously attentive to concentrated interest groups whose members greedily stand to gain whenever the government plunders the unwitting majority.

No one who reads, with a mind not completely closed, works such as the one, quoted above, by Don Johnson, or this one by Doug Irwin, or Frank Taussig’s 1888 The Tariff History of the United States can possibly miss the reality that protectionism in practice is plunder, pure and simple, conducted with all of the ethical niceties of, and justifications for, piracy. It is theft carried out by government agents on behalf of politically powerful producers.