by David Hart
The American Institute for Economic Research
When I think about the great free trade movement in England in the 1840s, what drove its supporters to oppose protectionism was not a deep knowledge of the intricacies of comparative advantage or the geographical specialisation of production, but a moral sense which we lack today. This moral sense cuts in two different directions. On the “positive side” there was the idea that you looked after yourself and your family and did not go looking for government handouts, that you got paid for supplying someone with a benefit in some voluntary exchange, and that nobody owed you a job or a living.
On the other hand, there was a kind of “negative” side to this moral feeling, namely that the people who sought benefits and government protection were part of an exploiting class who were looting ordinary people for their own “sinister” interests, and that these interests controlled the Parliament and would continue to exploit ordinary people until they were stopped.