All Commentary
Friday, September 23, 2016

Protectionism Is Akin to Mining Our Own Harbors

Reducing the harbor’s physical accessibility, after all, is simply another means of achieving what many politicians of both parties promise to do with tariffs: raise Americans’ costs of trading with foreigners.


In his recent column “Charleston’s port needs deepening. Can Congress do its job?” George Will beautifully explained how trade creates prosperity: low-value-added jobs, such as those in South Carolina’s textile mills, have, because of trade, been replaced by higher-value-added jobs, such as those in that state’s booming tire-manufacturing plants.

But in this election year that features so much hostility to trade, Mr. Will should not be surprised that Uncle Sam is dithering on dredging Charleston’s harbor. In fact, given the candidates’ and the voters’ lethal embrace of protectionism, it’s more surprising that Uncle Sam isn’t now at work filling the harbor with boulders and mines. Reducing the harbor’s physical accessibility, after all, is simply another means of achieving what many politicians of both parties promise to do with tariffs: raise Americans’ costs of trading with foreigners.

Or from a different perspective: why should government waste taxpayers’ dollars on the dredging of harbors if it plans to use tariffs to keep cargo ships from moving freely into and out of those harbors?

Reprinted from Cafe Hayek.


  • Donald J. Boudreaux is a senior fellow with the F.A. Hayek Program for Advanced Study in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Mercatus Center Board Member, and a professor of economics and former economics-department chair at George Mason University.