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More Questions for Trump and Other Protectionists and Mercantilists

Saturday, October 29, 2016 7:54
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(Don Boudreaux)

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Donald Trump is a protectionist like many other politicians, save that he unfurls his vast economic ignorance more fully and more proudly than do more seasoned politicians.  I’ve more questions for Trump and his fans, and, indeed, for protectionists of all stripes, colors, and temperaments.

– If you buy your tomatoes and okra from a stranger across town and, in response, your neighbor hires a gang of neighborhood thugs to rough you up if you don’t start buying your tomatoes and okra from him, do you regard your neighbor’s actions as just?  After all, his actions increase demand for his output and make him richer.

– If the neighborhood thugs succeed in getting you to buy fewer tomatoes and okra from the stranger across town and more from your neighbor, and if (as is indeed likely) your neighbor is enriched by this thuggery public policy for the neighborhood, do you believe that your neighbor’s increased wealth necessarily means that your neighborhood is thereby made wealthier?  Are you thereby made wealthier?

– Do you believe that the success of the neighborhood thugs in getting you to buy more of your neighbor’s tomatoes and okra will encourage your neighbor to be more attentive to your wishes as a consumer – your wishes as someone who buys tomatoes and okra?  Do you believe that the quality of the tomatoes and okra that you buy from your neighbor under these circumstances will be as high as would the quality of the tomatoes and okra that you buy were their no neighborhood thugs to rough you up whenever you purchase tomatoes and okra from outside of your neighborhood?

– Suppose that your neighbor shows you indisputably correct facts and figures that prove that you and your neighbors have for several years running bought larger dollar amounts goods and services from people who live outside of your neighborhood than people who live outside of your neighborhood bought from you and your neighbors.  Your neighbor explains that this fact – this “neighborhood trade deficit” – is reason enough for him to employ local thugs to rough you up each and every time you buy tomatoes and okra from outside of the neighborhood.  Would you excuse your neighbor?  Would you, in light of these fine facts and figures, volunteer to pay part of the salaries of the thugs who rough you up whenever you spend your money outside of the neighborhood?

– Suppose that your neighbor shows you indisputably correct facts and figures that prove that he hasn’t been working in his garden as much as he normally does, and that the reason is that there is now less-than-typical demand for the tomatoes and okra that he grows and offers for sale.  “Normally,” says your neighbor, “I’d have neither an ethical right nor a good economic justification for employing local thugs to rough you up each and every time you buy tomatoes and okra from outside of the neighborhood.  But because I’m now not working as much as I normally do in my garden, I’m now both ethically and economically justified in employing local thugs  to rough you up each and every time you buy tomatoes and okra from outside of the neighborhood.”  Do you accept your neighbor’s reasoning?

– Suppose that your neighbor shows you indisputably correct facts and figures that prove that a homeowners’ association outside of your neighborhood spends part of its budget encouraging its residents to grow more tomatoes and okra.  Your neighbor explains that this fact – this “subsidization of produce by an outside-of-our-neighborhood collective-decision-making entity” – is reason enough for him to employ local thugs to rough you up each and every time you buy tomatoes and okra from outside of the neighborhood.  Would you excuse your neighbor?  Would you, in light of this revelation, volunteer to pay part of the salaries of the thugs who rough you up whenever you spend your money outside of the neighborhood?

– Suppose that you question your neighbor’s claim that subsidization of outside-of-our-neighborhood produce by an outside-of-our-neighborhood homeowners’ association justifies his use of thugs to rough you up each and every time you buy tomatoes and okra from outside of your neighborhood.  Your neighbor replies that “such use by that outside-of-our-neighborhood homeowners’ associations of its homeowners’ funds is a clever and crafty way to make that other neighborhood richer at our neighborhood’s expense!”  Do you find this explanation compelling?  Does its truth justify your neighbor employing local thugs to rough you up each and every time you by tomatoes and okra from that other neighborhood?

– Suppose instead that your neighbor shows you compelling evidence that the other neighborhood has been overtaken by a gang of brutish thugs who violently extract resources from the citizens of that other neighborhood.  These brutish thugs spend these extracted resources subsidizing the production of tomatoes and okra grown in that other neighborhood and the sale outside of that neighborhood of those tomatoes and okra.  Your neighbor informs you that these thugs are thereby “strategically” enriching that other neighborhood at our neighborhood’s expense – which is why (your neighbor continues with his scholarly explanation) your neighbor is justified in “strategically” employing local thugs to rough you up each and every time you purchase tomatoes and okra from that other neighborhood.  Do you believe that the gang of brutish thugs in the other neighborhood are really making the people of that neighborhood, as a whole, more prosperous?  Regardless of your answer to the previous question, do you believe that your neighbor is justified in using local thugs to rough you up each and every time you buy tomatoes and okra from that other neighborhood?

…..

Now slightly reword each of the above questions so that “neighborhood” is replace by “country,” “thugs” replaced by “government authorities,” and “tomatoes and okra” is replace by “goods and services.”  I’m distressed, dear protectionist friends, to guess that your answers change when the questions are so reworded.  Can you explain why?

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