A Protectionist Is Someone Who…

By Donald J. Boudreaux

At my blog, Café Hayek, I have an ongoing series of posts titled “A Protectionist Is Someone Who…” in which I identify some common characteristic of protectionists. An example is my very first such post:

A protectionist is someone who, upon seeing the additional sales made by pharmaceutical companies during an especially bad flu season, concludes that society is enriched by the flu.

So far, I have 110 such blog posts. Here are some of my favorites.

A protectionist is someone who…

… upon seeing the satisfaction that a hungry man experiences when that man buys and eats a hearty meal, attributes the man’s satisfaction not to the consumption of the meal but, instead, to the hunger that the meal was purchased to satisfy. The protectionist commits himself, therefore, to maximize the man’s satisfaction by keeping the man near starvation.

... does not seem to doubt that, because Abraham Lincoln and the Union won the United States’ civil war, southerners and northerners alike are enriched by trading freely with each other, but that had the Civil War been won instead by Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy, southerners and northerners alike would have been impoverished had they nevertheless continued to trade freely with each other.

… thinks that the ultimate purpose of producing goods and services is to use them to acquire as much money as possible.  Unlike a free trader who understands that the purpose of producing goods and services is to acquire for yourself and your family as many as possible real goods and services to raise as much as possible your standard of living — and who understands that exchanging for money what you directly produce is merely a means of lowering your cost of acquiring in exchange as many as possible goods and services produced by others — the protectionist thinks that the ultimate purpose of producing real goods and services is to use them to acquire as much money as possible.

… believes that adding together numbers all of which are positive yields a sum that is negative. How else do protectionists reach the conclusion that domestic citizens as a whole are made worse off as a result of a series of trades in which each domestic citizen who is party to any of these trades is made better off with each of these trades?

… when learning that a little old lady on her way to the grocery store to buy lemonade was enticed instead to buy lemonade from a young girl selling low-priced lemonade that the girl’s mom made, accuses the girl and her mom of practicing “unfair competition” against the grocer — of committing an ethical offense against the grocer — and then demands that the police officer extract from every buyer of the young girl’s lemonade a punitive fine.

… admires Smith’s prudence in saving, applauds Smith’s gumption in entrepreneurially channeling those savings into the construction and operation of a factory in the protectionist’s home country, and celebrates the economic opportunities that this factory gives to those who work in it, but who — upon learning that Smith lives, not in Buffalo (as the protectionist originally thought), but in Toronto — execrates Smith’s prudence in saving, warns of mysterious dangers of Smith’s gumption in entrepreneurially channeling those savings into the construction and operation of a factory in the protectionist’s home country, and utterly fails to notice the economic opportunities that this factory gives to those who work in it.

... cannot adequately explain why each and every household in the world does not itself literally build its own home, literally grow its own food, literally spin the thread and weave the textiles that it literally sews together into its own clothing, literally manufacture its own automobile, literally treat its own medical ailments, and literally produce for itself each and every good and service that its members consume.

… upon seeing Jones’s riches increase when Jones robs Smith, concludes that Jones and Smith are thereby made collectively richer; the protectionist then counsels that Smith and Jones can further increase their collective riches if Smith now robs Jones. Blind to all but the immediate bounty of the plunderer, the protectionist concludes that plunder is a means of collective enrichment.

… if he is of a conservative bent, bemoans with one breath the high taxes, the oppressive regulations, and the general government ineptitude and cronyism that have made the domestic economy weaker than it would otherwise have been — and then, with his very next breath, demands that this same inept and corrupt government impose yet more taxes and yet additional regulations on his fellow citizens’ economic affairs as a means of allegedly protecting these citizens from the ill effects of high taxes and oppressive regulations.

… upon learning that God dispensed manna from heaven to the Israelites (as they wandered in the desert after their exodus from Egypt), concludes that God must have been mighty angry at his chosen people. After all, only a god furious at his people would punish them by “dumping” on them nutritious and tasty food at a price — zero! — far below that at which Israelite hunters, gatherers, or farmers could profitably compete. A kind and loving god would have not exported any manna at all to his people — or, if he did for some mysterious reason export this valuable good to his people, he at least would have done the godly thing and charged for it an exorbitant price!

… believes that if A forces B to enrich C, then the victim is C and the beneficiary is B.

… believes that Xi’s plunder of Li justifies Donald’s plunder of Dan.

… would, if nature were a conscious and acting entity, accuse nature of unfairly inflicting economic damage on the people of a country if and whenever the rate at which natural disasters strike that country falls.

When the rate of natural disasters falls, the protectionist would see, correctly, the resulting loss of jobs in construction, home repair, and emergency medical services. From this vision the protectionist would conclude, incorrectly, that nature is inflicting upon the country decreased overall employment and reduced economic well-being. Businesses and workers whose livelihoods are threatened by the reduced incidence of natural disasters would accuse nature of unfairly robbing them of what is theirs by right — namely, the presumed right to have consumers purchase from them some minimum amount of goods and services.

And when nature turns a deaf ear to those who demand that she resume her previous, higher rate of visiting destruction upon the country, the whining producers who lose business because of the fall in the rate of natural disasters will turn to government to demand that it pursue policies that restore their previous levels of business.

Sign up here to be notified of new articles from Donald J. Boudreaux and AIER.

Donald J. Boudreaux

Donald J. Boudreaux is a senior fellow with American Institute for Economic Research and with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University; a Mercatus Center Board Member; and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University. He is the author of the books The Essential Hayek, Globalization, Hypocrites and Half-Wits, and his articles appear in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, US News & World Report as well as numerous scholarly journals. He writes a blog called Cafe Hayek and a regular column on economics for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Boudreaux earned a PhD in economics from Auburn University and a law degree from the University of Virginia.