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Bonus Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 132 of Edwin Cannan’s 1914 book, Wealth: A Brief Explanation of the Causes of Economic Wealth:

The whole of the ordinary crude doctrine that Protection gives employment is usually thrown over by the more cultivated Protectionist. He has no expectation of giving employment by cutting down imports, and generally he disclaims any desire to cut down imports. He does not advocate indiscriminate Protection, but a discriminating Protection which will, he thinks, bring about a better selection of trades and industries by the people of his country than the selection which their self-interest will induce them to make in the absence of the duties which he proposes. There are two possibilities: (I) the country may specialize in the directions in which self-interest leads in the absence of protective duties, and (2) it may specialize in the directions in which self-interest leads when influenced by the existence of protective duties. Which is likely to be best?

In answer to this question it is sometimes said that the principle of laisser faire or letting people do what they want to do “has been abandoned,” or “is dead,” and therefore we must not suppose that there is any presumption in favour of a particular territorial specialization being good merely because it is profitable for individuals to adopt it. But this is clearly an error, and a bad error. The whole of civilized society is based on the principle that people should be allowed to do what they like until good reason is shown to the contrary, and this implies a presumption that profitable specialization is good. To justify interference with it some positive argument must be brought forward, showing that it, or the part of it which is attacked, is bad. A bare proof that complete laisser faire is bad, impossible, and inconceivable does not carry with it a corollary that every proposal for preventing people from doing what they want to do is right.

DBx: Written more than a century ago, Cannan here makes clear that arguments offered today by Oren Cass and other protectionists are nothing new. These arguments are old and worn, and the fallacies that infect them have been exposed countless times by competent economists such as Edwin Cannan (who is pictured above).