≡ Menu

Don’t Feel for Protected Workers

Here’s a note to a long-time friendly but largely critical commenter, Thomas Hutcheson:

Mr. Hutcheson:

Commenting at Facebook on my recent letter regarding Oren Cass’s misunderstanding of what is meant by “production,” you write: “DB missed the point that people value feeling that they are effectively contributing to society, not just working to consume now or in the future.”

I don’t miss this point at all. It’s clear that Oren believes – correctly – that workers in jobs protected by tariffs do indeed feel that they are effectively contributing to society. But this feeling is unwarranted. What Oren misses – and what protected workers miss – is the reality that workers in such jobs are not “effectively contributing to society.” Workers in such jobs make their fellow citizens poorer than these citizens would be absent protectionism.

My objection is to a policy – protectionism – of forcing consumers and taxpayers to pay for any workers to enjoy the illusion that these workers are net contributors to society when, in fact, these workers are being enriched at the larger expense of their fellow citizens.

I’ve nothing against workers who choose to toil away in a manner that enables them to feel that they are contributing to society when, in fact, they are not so contributing. But I strongly object to consumers and taxpayers being compelled to pay for these workers to enjoy this false “feeling.” If a worker falsely “feeling” that he or she is contributing to society by working wastefully at a particular job is sufficiently valuable to that worker, let that worker personally pay to enjoy this “feeling” by agreeing to work at lower wages, for only then would this worker not be a net drain on society. Do not, however, compel consumers and taxpayers – the very people who are victimized by this worker – to subsidize this worker’s consumption of a false “feeling” of being socially 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