Chapter 2 — Clearing Ground

Much 
that is urged in current discussions of the tariff question is of no validity whatever, and however it may serve the purpose of controversy, cannot aid in the discovery of truth. That a thing exists with or follows another thing is no proof that it is because of that other thing. This assumption is the fallacy post hoc, ergo propter hoc, which leads, if admitted, to the most preposterous conclusions. Wages in the United States are higher than in England, and the United States differ from England in having a protective tariff. But the assumption that the one fact is because of the other is no more valid than would be the assumption that these higher wages are due to a decimal coinage or to a republican form of government. That England has grown in wealth since the abolition of protection proves no more for free trade than the growth of the United States under a protective tariff does for protection. It does not follow that an institution is good because a country has prospered under it, nor bad because a country in which it exists is not prosperous. It does not even follow that institutions to be found in all prosperous countries and not to be found in backward countries are therefore beneficial. For this, at various times, might have been confidently asserted of slavery, of polygamy, of aristocracy, of established churches, and it may still be asserted of public debts, of private property in land, of pauperism, or of the existence of distinctively vicious or criminal classes. Nor even when it can be shown that certain changes in the prosperity of a country, of an industry, or of a class have followed certain other changes in laws or institutions can it be inferred that the two are related to each other as effect and cause, unless it can also be shown that the assigned cause tends to produce the assigned effect, or unless, what is clearly impossible in most cases, it can be shown that there is no other cause to which the effect can be attributed. The almost endless multiplicity of causes constantly operating in human societies, and the almost endless interference of effect with effect, make that popular mode of reasoning which logicians call the method of simple enumeration worse than useless in social investigations.

As for reliance upon statistics, that involves the additional difficulty of knowing whether we have the right statistics. Though "figures cannot lie," there is in their collection and grouping such liability to oversight and such temptation to bias that they are to be distrusted in matters of controversy until they have been subjected to rigid examination. The value of most arguments turning upon statistics is well illustrated in the story of the government clerk who, being told to get up the statistics of a certain question, wished first to know which side it was desired that they should support. Under their imposing appearance of exactness may lurk the gravest errors and wildest assumptions.

The protective theory has certainly the weight of most general acceptance. It should be remembered, however, that the presumption in favor of any belief generally entertained has existed in favor of many beliefs now known to be entirely erroneous, and is especially weak in the case of a theory which, like that of protection, enlists the support of powerful special interests.

I do not mean to say that the pecuniary interests which protection enlists suffice to explain the widespread acceptance of its theories and the tenacity with which they are held; but it is plain that these interests do constitute a power of the kind most potent in forming opinion and influencing legislation, and that this fact weakens the presumption the wide acceptance of protection might otherwise afford, and is a reason why those who believe in protection merely because they have constantly heard it praised should examine the question for themselves.

Protection, moreover, has always found an effective ally in those national prejudices and hatreds which are in part the cause and in part the result of the wars that have made the annals of mankind a record of bloodshed and devastation, prejudices and hatreds which have everywhere been the means by which the masses have been induced to use their own power for their own enslavement.

Working men generally feel that they do not get a fair reward for their labor. They know that what prevents them from successfully demanding higher wages is the competition of others anxious for work, and they are naturally disposed to favor the doctrine or party that proposes to shield them from competition. This, its advocates urge, is the aim of protection. And whatever protection accomplishes, protectionists at least profess regard for the working classes, and proclaim their desire to use the powers of government to raise and maintain wages. Protection, they declare, means the protection of labor. So constantly is this reiterated that many suppose that this is the real derivation of the term, and that "protection" is short for "protection of labor."

On the other hand, the doctrines of free trade have been intertwined with teachings that throw upon the laws of nature responsibility for the poverty of the laboring class, and foster a callous indifference to their sufferings. While protesting against restrictions upon the production of wealth, free-trade economists have ignored the monstrous injustice of its distribution, and have treated as fair and normal that competition in which human beings, deprived of their natural opportunities of employing themselves, are compelled by biting want to bid against one another .

To admit that labor needs protection is to acknowledge its inferiority; it is to acquiesce in an assumption that degrades the workman to the position of a dependent, and leads logically to the claim that the employee is bound to vote in the interest of the employer who provides him with work. There runs through protectionist professions of concern for labor a tone of condescending patronage more insulting to men who feel the true dignity of labor than frankly expressed contempt could be — an assumption that pauperism is the natural condition of labor, to which it must everywhere fall unless benevolently protected.

What is labor that it should so need protection? Is not labor the creator of capital, the producer of all wealth? Is it not the men who labor that feed and clothe all others? Is it not true, as has been said, that the three great orders of society are "working men, beggarmen, and thieves"? How, then, does it come that working men alone need protection?

When we consider that labor is the producer of all wealth, is it not evident that the impoverishment and dependence of labor are abnormal conditions resulting from restrictions and usurpations, and that instead of accepting protection, what labor should demand is freedom?