Friday, March 11, 2005

Protectionism = Racism?

Wow! It's not everyday you hear someone saying that trade protectionism shares some characteristics with xenophobia and racism, but I'm glad someone is talking about it:

I hold this truth to be self-evident: It is just plain ugly to care more about total strangers in Detroit than about total strangers in Juarez. Of course we care most about the people closest to us-our families more than our friends and our friends more than our acquaintances. But once you start talking about total strangers, they all ought to be on pretty much the same footing. You could say you care more about white strangers than black strangers because you've got more in common with whites. Does that make it okay to punish firms for hiring blacks?

It's also worth mentioning that laws intended to "protect" Americans raise the price of goods that Americans buy. I won't dwell on this because it's already obvious to anyone with a dollop of economic literacy. Besides, it's tangential to my main point, which is this: Even if Kerry-style (or Nader-style or Buchanan-style) protectionism could improve Americans' well-being at the expense of foreigners, it would still be wrong.

After all, if it's okay to enrich ourselves by denying foreigners the right to earn a living, why not enrich ourselves by invading peaceful countries and seizing their assets? Most of us don't think that's a good idea, and not just because it might backfire. We don't think it's a good idea because we believe human beings have human rights, whatever their color and wherever they live. Stealing assets is wrong, and so is stealing the right to earn a living, no matter where the victim was born.


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