Protectionists Are Confused about Work and Scarcity

Making foreign goods more expensive doesn't protect domestic workers.

People work in order to loosen the grip of scarcity – to make goods and services more abundant. Making goods and services more abundant is the end; work is the means.

Protectionist policies tighten the grip of scarcity – they make goods and services less abundant.

Seeing a connection between work and a reduction of scarcity, protectionists falsely suppose that, by artificially increasing scarcity, the resulting increase in work-effort will make the people more prosperous.

Rightly seeing work as a means of reducing scarcity, protectionists illogically conclude that policies that increase scarcity, because these policies increase work-effort, must therefore actually enrich the people by reducing scarcity. But protectionist policies tighten the grip of scarcity – they make goods and services less abundant.

With scarcity artificially raised by tariffs and other ‘protections’ – with abundance artificially reduced by these measures – the people must, as a result, work harder in order to consume the same amount of goods and services as they consumed before, or, if they work as before, settle for consuming fewer goods and services.

Protectionists observe the greater work effort and conclude that this greater effort will cause the people to become more prosperous. Free traders observe the greater work effort and recognize that that this greater effort is the consequence of the people being made less prosperous.

Reprinted from Café Hayek.

More by Donald J. Boudreaux

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