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Bad Medicine

This letter is to the Wall Street Journal. (Why are politicians taken seriously? Nearly all are clowns – well, clowns with guns.)


Reading Yuka Hayashi’s report on politicians debating alternative trade policies reveals that, among most politicians, the level of understanding of trade remains antediluvian (“New Asia-Pacific Economic Pact Exposes Rift Among Democrats Over Trade Policy,” April 1). Contrary to the assumptions that motivate these debaters, exports are a cost of trade, not a benefit, while imports are a benefit and not a cost. And our gains are greater the more we import in exchange for any given amount of our exports.

Further, protectionism inevitably stifles the economic adjustment and dynamism that are indispensable for economic growth. Although peddled as policy that’s pro-worker, trade restrictions – whether unilaterally imposed or incorporated in trade agreements – protect some workers today in their existing jobs only by harming all workers over time. And by the way, protectionism also, by making us less innovative and prosperous, weakens over time our national-defense capabilities.

Nothing that we’ve learned about trade since Adam Smith in 1776 exposed the folly of protectionism appears in politicians’ trade yammering in 2022. If politicians were to debate medical care with the same sophistication that they today bring to debates over trade, one side would insist that the best medicines are healing crystals while the other side would promote the curative properties of potions concocted with eyes of newts and toes of frogs.

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

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