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Protectionism as a Path to Piety

Frédéric Bastiat’s Candlestick Makers’ Petition, an open letter to the French Parliament written in 1845, gets trotted out by free-trade fundamentalists every time anyone says the word tariff.  Bastiat’s goal was to take the protectionist’s position to its logical extreme in order to mock protectionism via satire.  He distinguishes between free-traders who seek low prices and protectionists who seek to protect domestic industry.  He sarcastically commends the French government for its protectionism.  Then, he notes that a foreign threat, the sun, is dumping cheap light into France, which hinders the domestic candle-making industry.  The solution, he argues, is that the government must pass a law to block the sunlight.

Not surprisingly, as President Trump was ramping up his talk of trade wars and tariffs, Mark J. Perry, professor of economics at the University of Michigan-Flint, wrote a modernized version of the petition for the American Enterprise Institute (AEI).  He summoned his inner Bastiat by petitioning President Trump at the behest of the fictitious “American Lighting Association” and “International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.”  Perry ridicules the President for lacking reasoned economic philosophy:

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