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Quotation of the Day…

is from pages 13-14 of William Gladstone’s January 1890 contribution to a debate, with James G. Blaine of Maine, on free trade versus protectionism; these remarks are published in volume CCCXCVIII of the North American Review:

If the proper object for the legislator is to keep and employ in his country the greatest possible amount of capital, then the British Parliament (exempli gratiâ) ought to protect not only wheat but pineapples. A pineapple is now sold in London for eight shillings sixpence, which, before we imported that majestic fruit from the tropics, would have sold for two pounds. Why not protect the grower of pineapples at two pounds by a duty of 400 per cent.? Do not tell me that this is ridiculous. It is ridiculous upon my principles; but upon your principles it is allowable, it is wise, it is obligatory – as wise, shall I say? as it is to protect cotton fabrics by a duty of 50 per cent. No ; not as wise only, but even more wise, and therefore even more obligatory. Because according to this argument we ought to aim at the production within our own limits of those commodities which require the largest expenditure of capital and labor to rear them, in proportion to the quantity produced ; and no commodity could more amply fulfil this condition.

If protection be, as its champions (or victims) hold, in itself an economical good, then it holds in the sphere of production the same place as belongs to truth in the sphere of philosophy, or to virtue in the sphere of morals. In this case, you cannot have too much of it; so that, while mere protection is economical good in embryo, such good finds its full development only in the prohibition of foreign trade. I do not think the argument would be unfair. It really is the logical corollary of all your utterances on the high wages which (as you believe) protection gives in America, and on the low wages which (as you believe) our free trade, now impartially applied all round, inflicts upon England. But I refrain from pressing the point, because I do not wish to be responsible for urging an argument which tends to drive the sincere Protectionist deeper and deeper into, not the mud, but (what we should call) the mire.

DBx: Indeed so.

Protectionism is the intellectual equivalent of flat-earthism and the ethical equivalent of a doctrine that not only approves of, but celebrates, theft.