Tag Archives: Bastiat

Inefficiency…the real beneficiary of trade protection

      While politicians—particularly Donald Trump—are busy promoting how protectionist trade measures will help our economy, the reality is that all of us lose when we turn our backs on free trade. Well, not all of us. There is one group that benefits…the inefficient (not to mention those politicians). And they win at the expense of everyone else.

    Inefficiency is the primary beneficiary of trade protection. [Inefficiency is defined in two ways according to dictionary.com: 1. not efficient; unable to effect or achieve the desired result with reasonable economy of means; and 2. lacking in ability, incompetent.] However, so many of us get caught up in nationalistic sentiment to realize what is abundantly clear. The popular mantras include Americans “losing” their jobs to sweat shops and foreigners; companies “outsourcing” phone centers; or auto manufacturers shipping those poor union member’s jobs south of the border. All bunk. Let me give you an example that might help clear things up because the emotion has been removed.

     Let’s say in your town you have an intersection with two gas stations. At the QuickUp—yeah, I made that up all by myself—the employees are friendly, the facilities clean, the beer extra cold, and the pumps always give you a receipt instead of having to “see cashier” (I hate that…if I wanted to “see cashier” I would not have swiped my card!). Across the way, at the Sucks2B-N the store lives up to its namesake; the facility is filthy, the bathrooms are always closed, and the employees view you as an inconvenience to their normal texting routine.

      Now, not surprisingly, the QuickUp sells more gas and has better profits than the Sucks2B-N which is clearly unfair…right? So, to keep Joe the crackhead, Rebecca the part time meth-cooker, and Jim (the owner with a gambling problem) from losing their jobs, the local government institutes some “trade protection.” Basically, if you want to stop by the QuickUp, you have to pay a tax of 5%; that way we do not lose valuable jobs in the community, because if the Sucks2B-N closes, those three people will be unemployed, right?   After 6 months people are still going to the QuickUp—because that’s how bad the Sucks2B-N sucks to be in—prompting local government to increase it to 35% to ensure success.

     As expected, people are largely unable to afford to go to the QuickUp and a significant portion shifts to the cheaper Sucks2B-N.   Joe, Rebecca, and Jim are all better off now and have secure jobs. While the QuickUp, with a staff previously at 20, now has only 8 employees left (that means we are down 11, by the way). But, on the bright side, we get 4 jobs “back” with the addition of new employees which have been hired at the Sucks2B-N (it is easier to provide crappy service as it turns out…who knew).

      Here is the bonus though. In economics, it has been empirically proven that in the light of high tariffs (trade protection) the domestic producers raise their pricing to be more in line with foreign producers’ new pricing which includes the tax. Because Sucks2B-N follows predictably with what economics has long known, the people of your town can afford less ice cream for their families and two more jobs are lost at the parlor (11-4+2=9 jobs lost to save 3…hmmm). And that example could potentially apply to any type of good. In fact, other employers have to buy fuel at the more expensive price therefore they have less money for raises and increased benefits. In the light of reduced sales in other market segments, the local government takes in less tax revenue. In short, everybody in town has essentially paid a tax—in the form of higher prices and reduced future wages—to ensure that Joe, Rebecca, and Jim stay employed…still feeling warm and tingly inside? The “Inefficient 3” (catchy, I know) has been relieved of the consequences of inefficiently operating a gas station and you have received the bill. Both trade protection and the gas station example are, for all intents and purposes, wealth redistribution; a very costly form of redistribution at that. This kind of redistribution has much higher transaction costs than simple welfare leading to an increased magnitude in the future through the compounding effect.

       We must always keep in mind that if production of a good goes elsewhere, there is a reason and we, the consumers, have made that choice. Consumers make choices based on cost and quality that drives producers (i.e. businesses and corporations) to change their production methods and sources. And this is okay. Does this mean some people lose their jobs…certainly; but people lose their jobs all the time for inefficiency, we only seem to mind when it is to someone that is not an American citizen. Additionally, the amount of future production (read as consumption and the ability to have “stuff”) goes down making us all relatively poorer to subsidize—or benefit—a few. In fact, anyone that truly favors trade protection should thank the next fast food employee that screws up their food, or the next server that brings the appetizer after the entrée. Or the next car salesman that sells them a lemon…so on and so on. At least be consistent and support inefficiency directly in all its forms.

The Fallacy of Greed

       Greed…what a fun word! It is that invisible cause of all of society’s problems, right? Have an older car or smaller house than your neighbor? Don’t beat yourself up, they are obviously greedy. Textile manufacturing is now (predominantly) overseas? Duh…just a greedy capitalist. Walmart not forking over that mythical thing called a “living wage?” They are blatantly exhibiting their own greed. She has too much; he has too little…all byproducts of American greed, right?

     Effort is good, the old college try they used to say; but don’t you dare actually succeed because clearly you have morphed into just a common greedy piece of trash. Here is an interesting question then: If, in fact, a person who develops a product for which millions wish to pay for is greedy; what do we call a person who is willing to live for nothing off the labors of others? Ah, I remember now, we call them victims of American greed. Instead might I suggest we call them greedy victimizers of Americans; merely a semantic difference, I am sure.

     The convenience of greed lay in its ability to be arbitrarily blamed for anything. Those on the left have made careers playing on peoples’ petty jealousy through use of the word greed. People have justified the taking of others’ property because of greed; however, greed cannot be proven and, perhaps more importantly, cannot be disproven. How does one combat an accusation of greed? They cannot, which is why it is such a powerful tool of the politician to ensure support from those who Bastiat noted “wish to live at the expense of others.”

     Legalized theft and redistribution gains its mandate from this notion of greed, but how do we define greed exactly? If greed is to be defined as the desire and effort to take something from people which is not theirs, then who is greedy? Can we rightfully call Steve Jobs greedy because he created things which many were willing to trade money for? Or would that title be more properly attributed to the 23 year old which, instead of practicing responsibility, decides to live off the welfare system? I would say the latter; our president would likely say the former. A person who makes a living at the point of a gun is, in my estimation, greedy. There is little difference between someone who is able-bodied and living (almost) exclusively off the taxpayer than there is a common gangster. Both prey off of those unable to defend themselves from their oppressors, the only difference is the mobster at least has the courage to do their own dirty work.