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Protectionism Is Indeed Economic Parasitism

Here’s yet another letter to a long-time, hostile correspondent:

Mr. McKinney:

“Aghast” at my description of protectionism as parasitism, you accuse me of failing to “appreciate that  plenty of jobs have intrinsic value to workers which justifies being protected.”

I plead not guilty. I don’t deny that some people – say, Jones and Jackson – find intrinsic value in holding particular jobs. My argument is simply that other people – say, Smith, Adams, and Williams – should not be forced to pay for Jones and Jackson to enjoy that intrinsic value.

If this value is real and sufficiently high to Jones and Jackson, let them pay for this value, if necessary, by taking pay cuts. After all, this intrinsic value accrues not to Smith, Adams, and Williams, but to Jones and Jackson. If, when imports reduce the demand for the outputs that Jones and Jackson produce in their intrinsically valuable jobs, Jones and Jackson refuse to take the pay cuts necessary for them to continue in those jobs, then Jones and Jackson thereby prove that the intrinsic value to them of those jobs is less than is the value to them of higher wages.

For Jones and Jackson to keep their wages in those jobs from falling by enlisting the state to restrict Smith’s, Adams’s, and Williams’s freedom to buy imports is for Jones and Jackson to act parasitically on Smith, Adams, and Williams.

There is no way to avoid the conclusion that protectionism is economic parasitism. By its very nature, protectionism artificially restricts some people’s economic options – thus making them poorer as they are denied what rightfully belongs to them – in order to artificially bloat the economic options and riches available to the protected producers, that is, to the parasites. No society can be fully free or fully civilized as long as it tolerates protectionism.

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