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Two Benjamins on Export Restrictions

Here’s a letter to National Review (and note also that Franklin rather well anticipated the negative consequences that would later be identified as afflicting real-world efforts to put into practice the theory of the optimal tariff):


Benjamin Zycher eloquently explains that banning the exportation of oil and refined products will raise, not lower, Americans’ costs of obtaining energy (“Banning Exports of Crude Oil and Refined Products Would Increase Prices,” August 9). Another Benjamin – one by the last name of Franklin – would agree. In a July 22nd, 1778, letter to James Lovell, Franklin wrote that

To lay duties on a commodity exported, which our neighbors want, is a knavish attempt to get something for nothing. The statesman who first invented it had the genius of a pickpocket, and would have been a pickpocket if fortune had suitably placed him. The nations who have practiced it have suffered fourfold, as pickpockets ought to suffer.

Franklin here decried the home-government practice of artificially restricting exports in order to compel foreigners to pay monopolistically high prices for these exports. But his logic applies also to the current attempt to get something – namely, artificially low energy prices today for Americans – for nothing. As Mr. Zycher makes clear, and as Dr. Franklin understood, such myopic chicanery always harms the people for whose benefit it is allegedly practiced.

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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