… is from page 7 of Bas Van Der Vossen’s and Jason Brennan’s excellent 2018 book, In Defense of Openness:
Knowing what actually has a history of making a difference helps one appreciate what’s morally appropriate to demand of others. And flawed moral principles often look attractive because they match flawed empirical views.
DBx: A person commits neither a crime nor a sin by remaining ignorant of history or of economics. But that person becomes a danger to others when he or she – remaining ignorant of history and economics – calls for the use of force to obstruct peaceful commerce among adults. All sincerely made assertions that economic growth of the domestic economy will be promoted by protectionism reveal ignorance of history and of economics. This fact is so for calls for piecemeal protectionism no less than for protectionism as part of so-called “industrial policy.”
In nearly all cases, the pleader for protectionism thinks himself or herself to possess adequate knowledge of history and economics. But investigation of the substance of such pleas always uncovers a great deal of ignorance of key realities. This ignorance is often masked by the use of economic jargon – the meaning of which the protectionist pleader clearly doesn’t understand – and by out-of-context or misunderstood quotations from scholars such as Adam Smith and F.A. Hayek. Making matters worse, the protectionist unfailingly serves up the case for protectionism on a platter of logical fallacies.
As I often tell my students, if Adam Smith were resurrected today from his grave in Edinburgh and given a few hours to survey the current state of the debate pitting free trade against protectionism, he’d be surprised by almost nothing. All of the common arguments used today by protectionists were used in Smith’s day. These arguments are today no more advanced in substance than they were in the mid-18th century (although today’s arguments might be presented in murkier jargon or even in mathematical symbols). As in Smith’s day, protectionists see only what they want to see – which is at most only half of the picture. And the half of the picture that they do see, they see through distorted analytical lenses.
Protectionists think themselves to be genuinely clever and cutting-edge. They are neither. They are peddlers of economic magic crystals, no more intellectually respectable than are late-night “info”-mmercial hawkers of face creams that wipe away decades of wrinkles and of free pamphlets that guarantee easy and risk-free riches by flipping houses. Alas, though, because there will always be a large audience of people willing to be gulled by promises of miracles, there will always be an audience for the nonsense that is protectionism.