… is from page 14 of Steve Landsburg’s delightful, insightful, and provocative 1997 book, Fair Play:
She [Landsburg’s then-nine-year-old daughter Cayley] knows a lot about right and wrong already. She is an active trader in the schoolyard markets for decals, trading cards, and milk bottle caps. Sometimes Cayley wants to trade with her classmate Melissa but Melissa prefers to deal with Jennifer, from the other fourth-grade classroom. Cayley knows how disappointing that can be, but she also knows she can’t force Melissa to trade with her. More important, she knows it would be wrong to try.
Cayley is too morally advanced even to imagine asking her teacher to intervene and prohibit Melissa from trading with “foreigners.” Only a very unpalatable child would attempt such a tactic.
[Pat] Buchanan sees the U.S. Congress as the great national teacher, maintaining order on the schoolyard, making sure that all the children play the way the teachers’ special pets – or special industries – want them them to play. My daughter thinks that stinks. She’s right.
DBx: Good for Cayley!
Protectionism is a species of thievery. Period. And protectionism is not rendered one smidgen less ethically offensive if it is launched under the excuse that this species of thievery is carried out in a foreign country in ways that likely reduce the sales of domestic producers. If Jones’s sales fall because Jackson robs Smith, Jones does not thereby gain an ethical entitlement to rob Williams. Yet whenever a domestic producer pleads for higher tariffs at home on the grounds that foreign governments are using trade restrictions to reduce that domestic-producer’s sales, this domestic producer is insisting that he or she somehow becomes entitled to plunder innocent people at home because innocent people abroad are being plundered.
The ethical decrepitude of such an excuse for protectionism is offensive and appalling.