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Protectionism Is Topsy-Turvy Nonsense

Here’s a letter to Fortune: (For alerting me to this piece in Fortune I thank James Nellis)


Jason Ma writes as if we Americans should be distraught that the value of the U.S. dollar is rising against other currencies (“Armed with the mighty dollar, Americans are rushing to go on cheap vacations overseas – and it’s hurting the U.S. economy,” May 12). How strange it is to be distressed when our purchasing power increases.

Would Mr. Ma also suggest that we Americans should suffer distress when the prices of our favorite items at the supermarket or on Amazon are cut? Should we be dismayed when the rate of inflation slows? Of course not. The higher is our purchasing power the better off we are – individually, as households, and as a nation. Yet for some reason, when there’s an increase in our purchasing power over goods and services sold by foreigners, we think it to be, not the good fortune that it is, but a misfortune from which the government must protect us. And especially puzzling is the fact that among those who scream most loudly for such ‘protection’ are individuals who boast of their desire to “Make America Great Again.”

It’s anyone’s guess how the greatness of America is enhanced by her government arranging for foreigners to give to Americans fewer goods and services in exchange for any given amount of dollars – or, what is the same thing, arranging for Americans to fork over to foreigners, in exchange for some given amount of foreign currency, more of the valuable goods and services that we produce. Such is the topsy-turvy nonsense that is economic nationalism.

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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