(note – this is a revised and edited version of my post, originally published here)

Undoubtedly, many who turn the television on in the evening after a long day to watch the news will have heard loud pundits with fancy charts and graphs and smooth-talking politicians decrying the state of affairs within the country and throughout world, laying blame at the feet of many. They will likely have heard of pundits and politicians bemoaning the actions of specific businesses and corporations for their selfish pricing on goods or their outsourcing of jobs to Mexico or some other scapegoat foreign country. Often times, it is these very people who are responsible for enacting policies that act to the detriment of workers and business alike, though they may do so with honest sincerity.

To give an example of such sincere and charitable policies, consider the economic mantra of Protectionism. Protectionism is the art of using the power of government to dissuade foreign firms and business from selling goods and services into our country to be bought and used by we the citizen. The government might blockade such commerce through the use of various measures; most notably tariffs and restrictions on how much of a good(s) a firm can sell in the country (quantitative restrictions on imports). Protectionists seek to restrict foreign trade in order to benefit industries within a domestic market, whatever these supposed benefits may be.

Every time the government chooses to pursue such a policy with good intentions (naturally, of course, policies with sincere intentions in politics always seems to be synonymous with expanding the power of government), it invariably carries along with it unintended consequences that harm the rest of us. Protectionism is nothing more than another form of socialism – it is a forced redistribution of wealth from ordinary, everyday citizens to inefficient monopolistic firms. When the government dissuades foreign competition, the citizens are left to either pay a higher price for inefficient domestic product that is nowhere near the quality or price of the desired foreign product or pay a higher price for the foreign product desired. The consumer writ large is the object that is to be plundered. The forces of government join with poorly-managed business at home to force citizens into buying goods and services that they deem worthy, all in the name of “protection”. A more proper name for Protectionism would be armed robbery.

“But surely, my dear man,” Mr. Protectionist might say, “you are in favor of boosting employment and industry? Certainly, we can lay down tariffs on our manufacturing and steel industries and generate higher employment as a whole, yes? It may be true that we pay higher prices all around, but we offset this with more employment. What say you, Mr. Free Trader?”

I say – that is but a half-truth at best; a tariff wall will only benefit some industries at the expense of everyone else. Suppose the government chooses to levy a tariff on cheap steel imports from some foreign country. It is true that employment in American steel will increase, but only at a cost paid by American manufacturers and the consumer. American manufacturing firms whom consume steel in the process of production will be forced to buy lower quality steel for a higher price. In a nutshell, the artificially high price for steel means that American manufacturing has fewer resources available – resources that could be employed to increase its productivity. Thus, the dollars available that could have been used to increase employment, pay wages, and make investments is forcibly tied up by government to subsidize inefficient domestic steel firms.  The effect of the steel tariff would be to boost the profits of firms and wages of workers in the steel industry at the expense of those industries who consume steel, all the while passing down the burden onto the consumer. And if fewer dollars are being spent overseas, it is inevitable that American exporting firms will suffer. This is merely the government attempting to forcefully organize the activities of citizens to its own whims (out of good intent, naturally), while making American industry less efficient and less productive in the process. Protectionism results in an economic loss for a country as a whole, for it displaces the factors of production from their most productive uses in the marketplace.

What say you, Trumpians? And what say you, disciples of Bernie Sanders? Politicians with good intentions are often times the ones responsible for the reality they condemn as immoral. Perhaps they should take their good intentions and leave everyone else alone. People are not lab rats to be socially engineered.