Here’s a letter to Butler Renn, a gentleman who wrote to express his dissatisfaction with my latest column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
I’m sorry that you find my imaginary interview of Adam Smith to be “deceitful.”
You’re correct that Adam Smith mentions exceptions to the case for a policy of unilateral free trade, but these are just that: exceptions. Each of these exceptions, moreover, is itself qualified by Smith. Your description of Smith as “a scholar who would praise President Trump’s tough trade stance” is utterly contradicted by both the spirit and the words of Smith’s Wealth of Nations.
I disagree also with your claim that “it’s government’s role to combat any inefficiencies we bear when other governments distort markets.”
First, nearly every action of every government distorts markets. Therefore, if we tolerate such ‘retaliatory’ protectionism here at home we create a virtually unlimited supply of excuses that protectionists will trot out to justify tariffs, import quotas, and subsidies. To assume that U.S. government officials would ‘screen’ these excuses scientifically and apolitically is to assume the absurd.
Second, governments here at home – national, state, and local – routinely and heavily distort markets with the likes of politically motivated tax schedules, subsidies, land-use restrictions, labor-market interventions, occupational-licensing requirements, budgetary shenanigans, and manipulation of the supply of dollars. It is laughable to suppose that whatever economic harms we Americans might suffer as a consequence of any foreign-government’s economic policies even begin to compare in size or scope to the economic harms that we suffer at the hands of our own governments.
And it is beyond laughable to imagine that Uncle Sam – ever-ready to distort the American economy to serve politically powerful interests – can be trusted with the power to protect us from whatever economic harms might spill our way as a result of foreign governments catering to their own rent-seeking interest groups.
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