Economist Steve Landsburg, writing in Forbes, gets at the ugly moral underbelly of protectionism. It's one thing to expect government spending to be in the service of those who pay the taxes, he notes, but:
the labor market isn't like that at all. When General Motors hires an American in Detroit or a Mexican in Ciudad Juarez, the rest of us are not footing the bill. And that makes it none of our business. Nor should we want it to be.
I hold this truth to be self-evident: It is just plain ugly to care more about total strangers in Detroit than about total strangers in Juarez. Of course we care most about the people closest to us-our families more than our friends and our friends more than our acquaintances. But once you start talking about total strangers, they all ought to be on pretty much the same footing. You could say you care more about white strangers than black strangers because you've got more in common with whites. Does that make it okay to punish firms for hiring blacks?
I don't know that I exactly agree—I might be more concerned with the flourishing of some strangers than with others' for a variety of reasons that don't seem prima facie morally ugly. But they're still, of course, my reasons, and I don't expect to be entitled to force others to share them. And if anything is a vulgar, morally arbitrary reason for compelling someone to do business with me rather than someone else, it's surely that the someone-else lacked the good sense to be born in my neighborhood.