Protectionism, Right and Wrong

Slate asked all of its regular contributors and staff to explain who they were voting for and why, and posted the responses here. I responded as follows:

If George Bush had chosen the racist David Duke as a running mate, I’d have voted against him, almost without regard to any other issue. Instead, John Kerry chose the xenophobe John Edwards as a running mate. I will therefore vote against John Kerry.

Duke thinks it’s imperative to protect white jobs from black competition. Edwards thinks it’s imperative to protect American jobs from foreign competition. There’s not a dime’s worth of moral difference there. While Duke would discriminate on the arbitrary basis of skin color, Edwards would discriminate on the arbitrary basis of birthplace. Either way, bigotry is bigotry, and appeals to base instincts should always be repudiated.

Bush’s reckless spending and disregard for the truth had me almost ready to vote for Kerry-until Kerry picked his running mate. When the real David Duke ran against a corrupt felon for governor of Lousiana, the bumper stickers read, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.” Well, I’m voting for the reckless spendthrift. It’s important again.

A thoughtful e-correspondent disagrees: “I cringe every time Kerry or Edwards step up the protectionist rhetoric, not because its morally wrong but because it’s bad economics.”

My response:

The Jim Crow laws in the South were bad economics for whites. By refusing to trade with blacks, they retarded their own economic progress. But that wasn’t the primary reason to oppose those laws; the primary reason was that they were wrong. I think protectionism is a lot like that.


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