Conservative Pikers

There are liberal pikers and there are conservative pikers.

Every few years, liberals and progressives in and out of Congress push for an increase in the federal minimum wage. During one such time back in the 1980s, economist Murray Rothbard, in the course of explaining how a “minimum wage law provides no jobs; it only outlaws them,” made this noteworthy statement:

The advocates of the minimum wage and its periodic boosting reply that all this is scare talk and that minimum wage rates do not and never have caused any unemployment. The proper riposte is to raise them one better; all right, if the minimum wage is such a wonderful anti-poverty measure, and can have no unemployment-raising effects, why are you such pikers? Why you are helping the working poor by such piddling amounts? Why stop at $4.55 an hour? Why not $10 an hour? $100? $1,000?

It is obvious that the minimum wage advocates do not pursue their own logic, because if they push it to such heights, virtually the entire labor force will be disemployed. In short, you can have as much unemployment as you want, simply by pushing the legally minimum wage high enough.

The Free Society Laurence M. Vance Buy New $19.95 (as of 09:55 EDT - Details) This is still true today. Liberals who are calling for a $15 federal minimum wage are pikers. Why not do something to really help the working poor and demand that the minimum wage be raised to $150 an hour?

But conservatives can be pikers too. Not when it comes to the minimum wage, but on the subject of tariffs.

Some conservatives have always made veiled criticisms of free trade in their writings that, correctly, disparage government-managed trade agreements. But since the elevation of the protectionist, economic nationalist, and all-around trade ignoramus Donald Trump to the presidency, these conservatives, who are otherwise somewhat libertarianesque, have begun to openly denigrate free trade and advocate for protectionism. They have nary an unkind word for Trump’s destructive tariffs.

These conservatives defend Trump’s tariffs in nationalistic tones such as this:

A country wishing to remain free and independent cannot afford to become dangerously dependent on foreign suppliers, particularly potentially hostile powers, for essential commodities from oil to steel. As long as sovereign countries exist, both governments and borders will be necessary. And that means that there can never be any such thing as truly free trade or a perfect free market liberated from all government authority.

In this conservative mindset, exports are intrinsically good and imports are intrinsically bad. They simplistically think that exports create jobs and imports destroy jobs. They liken trade to a national game in which one country wins and another country loses.

These conservatives are such pikers.

If exports are intrinsically good while imports are intrinsically bad, exports create jobs while imports destroy jobs, and trade results in one entity winning while another entity loses, then why not just stop all imports if you really want to protect U.S. industry and U.S. sovereignty? Are not food, clothing, and shoes essential items during both times of peace and times of war? Then why should the United States allow any food, clothing, or shoes to be imported in any amount at any time? Americans should be forced to buy only American produced food, clothing, and shoes.

And why just prohibit imports on the national level? As economist Murray Rothbard has so well explained:

So why not restrict and even prohibit trade, i.e. “imports,” into a city, or a neighborhood, or even on a block, or, to boil it down to its logical conclusion, to one family? Why shouldn’t the Jones family issue a decree that from now on, no member of the family can buy any goods or services produced outside the family house? Starvation would quickly wipe out this ludicrous drive for self-sufficiency.

Free Trade or Protecti... Laurence M. Vance Buy New $5.95 (as of 09:25 EDT - Details) Such is the absurdity of protectionism and autarky.

“Standard protectionism is just as preposterous,” remarks Rothbard, “but the rhetoric of nationalism and national boundaries has been able to obscure this vital fact.”

So, how should these conservative defenders of Trump’s tariffs view protectionism? Again, Rothbard speaks:

The upshot is that protectionism is not only nonsense, but dangerous nonsense, destructive of all economic prosperity. We are not, if we were ever, a world of self-sufficient farmers. The market economy is one vast latticework throughout the world, in which each individual, each region, each country, produces what he or it is best at, most relatively efficient in, and exchanges that product for the goods and services of others. Without the division of labor and the trade based upon that division, the entire world would starve. Coerced restraints on trade-such as protectionism-cripple, hobble, and destroy trade, the source of life and prosperity. Protectionism is simply a plea that consumers, as well as general prosperity, be hurt so as to confer permanent special privilege upon groups of inefficient producers, at the expense of competent firms and of consumers. But it is a peculiarly destructive kind of bailout, because it permanently shackles trade under the cloak of patriotism.

Free trade is part and parcel of a free society.