Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 7, 2020

in Cooperation, Seen and Unseen, Trade

… is from page 33 of Deirdre McCloskey’s and Art Carden’s new (2020) book, Leave Me Alone and I’ll Make You Rich: How the Bourgeois Deal Enriched the World (original emphasis; footnote deleted; link added):

Giving people what they want, and are in justice willing to pay for when they can, is a good system. “Economics,” writes Jeffrey Tucker, “is not just about making money. It’s also about a chance to be valuable to others, to yourself.” By contrast, giving people what the critics of “capitalism” think they should want, or that people do want but want to get magically free of sacrifice of their own efforts for other people, burdening another person for their own gain, is a hideously selfish society.

DBx: Yes. A trillion-and-two times yes.

All schemes of protectionism enable some people to leech off of their fellow citizens. Protectionism, in order to artificially enrich the few, denies to the many the right to spend their incomes as they choose. By artificially narrowing buyers’ options, protectionism relieves the protected of the obligation to make themselves as useful as possible to others.

This reality is true for run-of-the-(steel)-mill protectionism as well as for more ‘comprehensive’ versions hawked as “industrial policy.”

Hawkers of economic protectionism differ from each other on the surface. Most don’t bother to mask their economic ignorance. Their thinking is never more than the “imports are bad because ‘we’ don’t make them” tic. This gaggle of protectionists is surprisingly large; it includes Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders.

A smaller group of protectionists – fancying themselves to have a better understanding of economics than they actually do – gild their arguments for protectionism with some economic jargon here, a few out-of-context quotations from Adam Smith there, and trains of twisted or incomplete ‘reasoning’ throughout. This group of protectionists boasts among its membership Oren Cass, Julius Krein, and Robert Reich.

But, substantively, the final result of the intellectual efforts of this smaller group is the same as that which is emitted by the many protectionists whose economic ignorance is blatant. Both groups of protectionists value only the benefits bestowed on the protected. The blatantly ignorant simply don’t see the greater damage done by protectionism, while the more ‘sophisticated’ group – having heard something about this damage but never really understanding it – write nonsensically about how this damage is unreal, justified, or can be miraculously avoided.

In the end, all protectionists peddle policies that make human beings less useful to each other. All protectionists advocate policies that enable the relative few to prey on the many.


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