“Protectionism Is a Means of Stealing That Which Suppliers Are Unwilling to Purchase”

As ever, the Cafe Hayek blog does an admirable job of using analogies that make no economic or ethical sense and apply them to ways in which we pursue ill conceived economic policies.

The following is what I deem to be the most important point of the post:

Yet too often when buyers shift some of their patronage from domestic producers to foreign producers, domestic producers – both firm owners and workers – insist that the state is morally obliged to force buyers to continue to purchase their products and their labor without any reduction in the prices and wages charged by sellers.  These producers greedily and falsely insist that it’s bad policy for the state to allow buyers to shift their patronage to other sellers.  Because those other sellers happen to be located abroad – or in the case of immigrants happen not to have passports issued by the domestic sovereign – such greedy and false insistence by domestic producers and workers is remarkably seen as legitimate, despite the fact that there’s nothing remotely legitimate about such insistence.

Tariffs and other forms of ‘protectionism’ are means of forcing buyers to act and to pay as if they agreed to terms of contracts with sellers that these buyers never agreed to and that the sellers who benefit from the protectionism were unwilling to pay for in their contractual dealings with their customers.

Protectionism is akin to changing the rules of a game in the middle of a game.  It’s unfair.  It’s unproductive.  It’s theft wrapped in flags, and too-often faux-sanctified by specious theorizing.

Can we ever get to a state of sensibility on immigration?

Rarely a day goes by that I am not subjected to a television, radio, print, or sponsored advertisement on social media that is a blatant attempt at generating the ire of the potential voter about the ravages of the illegal immigrant. By implication, only the vigilant would-be congressman can solve it for us, through stepped up border enforcement and deportations of illegal immigrants. Not mentioned are the billions of taxpayer dollars that need to be spent to do so, the families that will be torn apart, the relationships – both private and business – that will be disrupted and harmed. Without apparent irony, these congressman on the “right” use some of the same rationale, logic, and language that those on the left use to justify healthcare market takeovers and price controls on pharmaceuticals. In other words, politicians who on the surface are supposed to love freedom and the free market are just as guilty of succumbing to the fallacy that big government must solve challenges that are in fact a creation of previous bad government policy.

It is bad enough to consider the economic and moral insanity of such border enforcement and deportation policies. A personal grievance I have is that it is one thing to discuss the economics of such policies (where any sane analysis indicates it is economically harmful to America and Americans to close off the border, even if that was remotely posssible), it is altogether of a different and much more depressing element to witness people of a spiritual Christian bent becoming some of the most forceful advocates of nativist policy. The implicit prayer is, “Lord, please love your children, whatever their color and background, but please, for the sake of my own selfish desires and notions of culture, keep them out of my own back yard, and send them back home. Not that you have notions of what a person’s earthly home focus should be. I mean, I love the man who does my yard, and the restaurant down the street, so keep them intact and where they are, whatever their status. They can stay, but let’s get rid of the rest of them and let’s keep any more of them from coming in.” I digress on these economic and spiritual dimensions. What really should make us all question the politicians, and chief among them the ever-waffling, say what I need to say based upon who is sitting in front of me Donald Trump, is the unquestionable sense that politicians saying such things understand the inherent untruths that they are speaking in order to whip up the mob.

Reason’s Matt Welch brings together salient points on the topic, as well as some reasonable and logical quotes from Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson on the matter in a recent blog post titled, Gary Johnson: Trump and Other Politicians Are Lying to You About Immigration. First, Welch demonstrates the inherent depravity and devolution of the Republican party policy in the last decades:

Donald Trump’s so-far incoherent softening this week of his hardline immigration policy is a good time to remind people of a fact that, in a just world, would be cause for painful introspection among Republican politicians and conservative commentators for years to come: This outsider real estate/TV mogul, less than three years after blaming Mitt Romney’s loss on the 2012 candidate’s “mean-spirited,” “crazy,” and “maniacal” policy of encouraging self-deportation, managed not only to win the GOP nomination on an explicitly anti-constitutional hostility to immigrants, but to pull almost his entire competitive set into an authoritarian fantasy land where borders can be “sealed,” human beings can be treated like FedEx packages, the 14th Amendment can be wished away, and—what the hell!—a wall might be a good idea up north as well.

The GOP’s nativist summer was revealing not just in the way that it accelerated the party’s long trend away from the Reagan/Bush welcome mat toward a more Tancredoan restrictionism, but also in how it ratified the obviously unattainable demands of conservatism’s entertainment wing as the party’s preferred policy approach. Those commentators who damn well knew that you could never deport 15,000 illegal immigrants a day (plus another 5,000 or so of their U.S.-citizen children), yet cheered Trump on when he said crazy stuff like that, deliberately chose know-nothingism over reality. Never forget that the same National Review that showily came out “Against Trump” in January, were spending last August editorializing that “Trump’s Immigration Plan Is a Good Start—for All GOP Candidates,” while its editor encouraged the party to “pander to Trump on immigration.”

Contrast that with some sensible thoughts from Gary Johnson on the matter:

Rounding up more than 11 million people—a population larger than all but the 7 largest states in the union—is a ludicrous notion to begin with. Everyone knows it, including Donald Trump. It was a lie cloaked in a promise. Even if it were possible, the idea of federal authorities rounding up millions of people and loading them on buses is an image America could never stomach.

The fear-mongers would have you believe 11 million people swam the Rio Grande, burrowed under a fence or otherwise sneaked into our communities in the dead of night. Yes, some of them did. But a significant number of undocumented immigrants actually came here legally—and stayed.

Many didn’t come—and nor do they remain—for nefarious reasons, but because they found work, established relationships or joined family members. They couldn’t stay legally due to special-interest-driven restrictions on their visas. They were students who graduated or found jobs, seasonal workers who found year-round work, or children brought here by their parents.

Of those who did hike the mountains of Arizona or stow away in a container ship, how many of them would have rather come here legally if the line to enter was actually moving? Almost all of them.

Finally, I do wish we could all take a step back and recognize the reason so many people jump the line, so to speak, and enter or stay in the country illegally is the absurdly slow and byzantine process of actually getting in line and moving through it in the first place. Welch provides a useful analogy that Americans should appreciate:

The key to illegal immigration, as we keep telling you here at Reason (and Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did 36 years ago), is to stop looking at it like a criminality problem, and start recognizing it as an artifact of prohibition and bureaucratization. As Johnson writes, “If it took months or years to get a driver’s license, how many of us would throw up our hands, get behind the wheel, and take our chances driving without one? You know who you are.” The reality of “Get in Line!” is the unspoken tagline: “And stay out.” The Libertarian approach? “The way to stop illegal entry is to spend our resources making legal entry efficient for people coming here for the right reasons.”

My hope is that we can understand the deeper causes and values of immigration, welcome it as both uniquely economically beneficial as well as charitable, and stop promoting politicians who pander to base elements with base and simplitic solutions that they know well won’t solve anything, all the while extracting more money from the taxpayer, restricts her choice to choose whom to buy from and whom to employ, and gives government more powers in the process.

Explaining the EpiPen (hint – the company can jack its prices up because of government intervention, not because of the lack of it)

This author does as admirable of a job as any I have seen, so I am sharing it. http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/08/29/reverse-voxsplaining-drugs-vs-chairs/

The only point he leaves out that I would like to make is the laughable hypocrisy of government officials, including one candidate for President, claiming we need more government intervention and price controls. I have a better idea for policymakers – how about trying something that comes completely unnatural to you – get out of the way and let innovators do what you could never do, actually create products that people want at lower cost and higher quality, if only you would let them. I promise it will be more effective and help the poor and middle class a lot more than your prescriptions (lame pun intended.) But I suppose that is the point, your job security is only justified if you are seen as hyperactive in your “protection” of the people. If only the people knew that the only protection we often need is actually precisely from you – the paternalistic functionary.

Here is the key crux of his argument, wrapped into a simple market analogy of chairs:

Imagine that the government creates the Furniture and Desk Association, an agency which declares that only IKEA is allowed to sell chairs. IKEA responds by charging $300 per chair. Other companies try to sell stools or sofas, but get bogged down for years in litigation over whether these technically count as “chairs”. When a few of them win their court cases, the FDA shoots them down anyway for vague reasons it refuses to share, or because they haven’t done studies showing that their chairs will not break, or because the studies that showed their chairs will not break didn’t include a high enough number of morbidly obese people so we can’t be sure they won’t break. Finally, Target spends tens of millions of dollars on lawyers and gets the okay to compete with IKEA, but people can only get Target chairs if they have a note signed by a professional interior designer saying that their room needs a “comfort-producing seating implement” and which absolutely definitely does not mention “chairs” anywhere, because otherwise a child who was used to sitting on IKEA chairs might sit down on a Target chair the wrong way, get confused, fall off, and break her head.

(You’re going to say this is an unfair comparison because drugs are potentially dangerous and chairs aren’t – but 50 people die each year from falling off chairs in Britain alone and as far as I know nobody has ever died from an EpiPen malfunction.)

Imagine that this whole system is going on at the same time that IKEA spends millions of dollars lobbying senators about chair-related issues, and that these same senators vote down a bill preventing IKEA from paying off other companies to stay out of the chair industry. Also, suppose that a bunch of people are dying each year of exhaustion from having to stand up all the time because chairs are too expensive unless you’ve got really good furniture insurance, which is totally a thing and which everybody is legally required to have.

And now imagine that a news site responds with an article saying the government doesn’t regulate chairs enough.