The evening news reports there has been a complete blockade of the U.S. On the East Coast of the United States, Russian forces have instituted a naval and air blockade, similar to the one being imposed by China on our West Coast. A similar blockade has been set up on the borders of Canada and Mexico.
The blockade is somewhat porous. People are allowed to pass through freely (but only if they are not trying to enter the U.S. illegally). Exports from the U.S. also are unhindered. But all imported goods from every nation on earth are being kept out.
What would be your reaction? Well, naturally you’d cheer. This is great news! Someone has finally stopped the “invasion” of foreign products into our homeland. Without cheap imports flooding our market prices will have to rise, which means increased wages and better jobs. Factories will have to open since everything will need to be made in the good ol’ US of A. Unemployment will plummet since the demand for workers will spike. Our economy will soon be booming!
Wait, what’s that you say? You don’t think it’s a good idea? You say such provocation would be an act of war?
Okay, what if the blockade was limited. Instead of completely keeping out foreign goods, the blockading countriesmerely require importing countries to pay a “toll” of between 10 and 40 percent. And to keep the peace, the blockaders even give the money collected from the tolls to the U.S government. That would be almost as good, wouldn’t it? Maybe even better?
No? You still say the blockade would be an act of war? That it’d make us all worse off than before?
Of course, you’d be right. A naval blockade by foreign countries would hinder, not help, our economy. So why do we allow in peace what we oppose in war?
That was the question asked in the 19th century by the American economist Henry George. In his book Protection or Free Trade, George explained how voluntary governmental restrictions on trade are the same as blockades in a time of war by foreign nations:
Trade is not invasion. It does not involve aggression on one side and resistance on the other, but mutual consent and gratification. There cannot be a trade unless the parties to it agree, any more than there can be a quarrel unless the parties to it differ. England, we say, forced trade with the outside world upon China, and the United States upon Japan. But, in both cases, what was done was not to force the people to trade, but to force their governments to let them. If the people had not wanted to trade, the opening of the ports would have been useless.
Civilized nations, however, do not use their armies and fleets to open one another’s ports to trade. What they use their armies and fleets for, is, when they quarrel, to close one another’s ports. And their effort then is to prevent the carrying in of things even more than the bringing out of things—importing rather than exporting. For a people can be more quickly injured by preventing them from getting things than by preventing them from sending things away. Trade does not require force. Free trade consists simply in letting people buy and sell as they want to buy and sell. It is protection that requires force, for it consists in preventing people from doing what they want to do. Protective tariffs are as much applications of force as are blockading squadrons, and their object is the same—to prevent trade.The difference between the two is that blockading squadrons are a means whereby nations seek to prevent their enemies from trading; protective tariffs are a means whereby nations attempt to prevent their own people from trading. What protection teaches us, is to do to ourselves in time of peace what enemies seek to do to us in time of war.
Can there be any greater misuse of language than to apply to commerce terms suggesting strife, and to talk of one nation invading, deluging, overwhelming or inundating another with goods? Goods! what are they but good things—things we are all glad to get? Is it not preposterous to talk of one nation forcing its good things upon another nation? Who individually would wish to be preserved from such invasion? Who would object to being inundated with all the dress goods his wife and daughters could want; deluged with a horse and buggy; overwhelmed with clothing, with groceries, with good cigars, fine pictures, or anything else that has value? And who would take it kindly if any one should assume to protect him by driving off those who wanted to bring him such things? [emphasis added]
George makes a point that everyone should be asking this election season: Why do we support politicians who want to do to us in times of peace what our enemies want to do to us in times of war?
(Via: AEI Ideas)