unions protectionism labor day economic freedom

Instead of accepting protectionism
henry george free trade natural right import

What labor should demand is freedom

As Henry George recognized, protectionism by its nature harms the vast majority of workers. Protectionists often are protectionists in politics. When it comes to buying what they want, they become free traders. This 2010 op-ed was posted at the Ventura County Star, Sept 4. The writer is an economics professor at Pepperdine U (bordering Los Angeles CA).

by Gary M. Galles

Aware that their government insulation from competing workers ends at the border, labor unions are the central force behind protectionism. They punish any politician willing to expand people’s freedom to arrange their own domestic and international economic affairs.

But “labor” has not always been so hostile to the freedom that is, in fact, the primary source of worker well-being.

American economist Henry George is an example. His 1886 book, Protection or Free Trade?, demonstrated the case for free trade by demolishing protectionist fallacies, yet labor organizations twice persuaded him to run for mayor of New York. For his Sept. 2 birthday, instructively near Labor Day, his recognition of free trade as being the true interest of workers merits remembering his words.

Especially around Labor Day, unions reiterate long-debunked assertions that they benefit all workers. But their domestic and international protectionism by its nature harms the vast majority of workers, as George recognized.

He also saw that they did not really believe their own propaganda because “Protectionists are only protectionists in theory and politics. When it comes to buying what they want, all protectionists are free traders.”

That is why George’s work justifies renewed attention from workers and policy makers. It reveals that union protectionism “has been invented merely to serve the purpose of its inventors,” and that for workers to advance their true interests, “instead of accepting protection, what labor should demand is freedom.”

JJS: The opinions people hold about economics are more like superstitions, and people hold them vigorously. To persuade unions to forgo tariffs on imports, a geonomist might also propose broader tax reform: Remove taxes from wages, too. Also, eliminate taxes on the sales of goods that workers (and everyone) buy. And while you’re at it, abolish the taxes on the buildings that workers (and everyone) live and work in.

As long as you have the workers’ attention, go ahead and also advocate ending corporate welfare (and all subsidies that tilt the playing field). And to really cement the deal, tell them what we all could do with the mounds of surplus public revenue -- share it, as Alaskans do with oil revenue.

The complete geonomic program is a policy that should win over labor, capital, and just regular human beings.


Editor Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

US bill aims to ease Cuba travel

'Buy American' plan could cost US jobs

Foreign firms create jobs on American soil

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