Protectionism is the idea that the government can protect me from foreign companies that want to sell me something at a lower price that the government thinks is fair. As a result, I pay more than I would otherwise.

Professor Don Boudreaux published a letter to Wall Street Journal editor explaining why protectionism is immoral. Here’s his letter, quoted in full since it is an open letter to the editor,with the key paragraph expanded into bullet points:

You rightly criticize the U.S. government’s imposition of punitive taxes on Americans who buy steel made outside of America (“Protectionists Steel Washington,” July 17).  Economic arguments of the sort that you make against protectionism are powerful and necessary.  I myself make these arguments repeatedly.  I’ll continue to do so and hope that you will too.

Yet occasionally it’s important to step away from these economic arguments in order to expose protectionism’s immorality.

  • Protectionism is government intimidation unleashed against consumers to oblige them to buy products that they prefer not to buy. 
  • Protectionism is force that enriches the politically powerful at the expense of the politically impotent. 
  • Protectionism is business people capturing rents from receiving special favors from the state rather earning profits from giving good service to the public. 
  • Protectionism is the myth that money belongs not to consumers who earned it peacefully but to suppliers who steal it coercively. 
  • Protectionism is the corrupting lie that absurdly and insultingly insists that mass flourishing results from monopoly and dearth rather than from competition and abundance. (emphasis added and changed to bullet points)

Let’s see, the professor says setting artificially high prices is:

  • Government intimidation
  • Force
  • Rent capturing
  • Myth
  • Corrupting lie

Who does he say benefits?

  • Government (increased power)
  • Politically powerful
  • Some sly business people
  • Suppliers

Who looses?

  • Consumers.

You and me.

Explain to me again why that is considered moral?


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