Be Angry at the Sun, Hillary, if These Imports Anger You


19th century French libertarian economist and journalist Frederic Bastiat's "Candlemakers' Petition" has remained a favorite free trader's reductio ad absurdum against protectionism–it features candlemakers demanding that the government protect their industry from all the free imported light being dumped on their shores by the sun, which destroys their ability to fairly compete. A sample:

If you shut off as much as possible all access to natural light, and thereby create a need for artificial light, what industry in France will not ultimately be encouraged?

If France consumes more tallow, there will have to be more cattle and sheep, and, consequently, we shall see an increase in cleared fields, meat, wool, leather, and especially manure, the basis of all agricultural wealth.

If France consumes more oil, we shall see an expansion in the cultivation of the poppy, the olive, and rapeseed. These rich yet soil-exhausting plants will come at just the right time to enable us to put to profitable use the increased fertility that the breeding of cattle will impart to the land.

Hillary Clinton, as David Boaz has alerted us over at Cato's blog, has embraced a similar petition of the candlemakers–this time only against Chinese candles. Candlemakers–some from the state she represents–just won from the Commerce Department a 108 percent tariff against their Chinese competitors. But the logic beyond it is the same. Thankfully, given the nature of the principles implicit in their choices, most politicians are incapable of choosing principles and applying them rigorously. (Excepting the principle of "I need to get re-elected," natch.)