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Masking Parasitism Doesn’t Make It Productive

Here’s a letter to Wells King, Research Director for American Compass, which is the new organization founded by Oren Cass:

Mr. King:

Interviewed at National Review by Daniel Tenreiro, you rightly observe that, for workers who lose particular jobs to imports, “[i]t is incredibly demeaning and demoralizing to suggest that a check in the mail [from the government] is an appropriate response.” Living at the compelled expense of others is indeed contemptible.

But your preferred alternative, protectionism, is equally demeaning and contemptible. Workers whose jobs exist only because of high tariffs – which are punitive taxes on fellow citizens who buy imports – are thereby transformed into unproductive workers. In these jobs, these workers don’t produce; they consume – wastefully. This reality is shown by the fact that fellow citizens must be taxed to support these jobs no less than fellow citizens would be taxed to supply funds for unemployment checks.

The fact that jobs that exist only because of the punitive taxes called “tariffs” appear to be jobs at which workers are productive does not change the underlying reality that these jobs unnecessarily waste valuable, scarce resources – including labor – and, thus, workers who hold these jobs are parasitical rather than productive.

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