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Quotation of the Day…

… is from Harriet Martineau’s October 31st, 1861, letter, from her home in Britain, to the American Maria Weston Chapman:

I perceive you ground your disapprobation of the protective system on the injustice and unkindness to foreign peoples. This is a very strong and quite indisputable ground, but it is not the one I have at all had in view at this time, or wished to bring forward in discussing the matter in the “Standard” or elsewhere. I protest against the vicious aristocratic principle, and the rank oppression exercised over the American people at large, for the selfish interest of certain classes. It is true your shippers and merchants are concerned in and injured by every injury inflicted on foreign commerce; but it is a graver consideration to my mind that every workingman in the country is injured for the illicit benefit of wealthier classes. Popular ignorance alone can have permitted it thus long.

DBx: Harriet Martineau was among the 19th-century’s leading voices for true liberalism.

Sadly, the popular ignorance about trade and protectionism that Martineau rightly decried 158 years ago remains rampant today. This ignorance, now as then, is peddled not only cynically by politicians seeking power, but also sincerely by economically uninformed intellectuals who mistake their fine sentiments and motives for adequate knowledge of the consequences of trade and protectionism.