This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
Legal protection may be imposed from one or more of four general reasons: —
1st, To raise a revenue.
2d, To encourage the protection of certain commodities at home.
3d, To support existing forms of production.
4th, To secure commercial independence.
All these will be examined in detail.
1st, To raise a revenue. So far as this is the only convenient way in which the state can raise a certain sum of money which it must have, it is but a mode of taxation, with which we have no present concern. So far as it also affects industry, it becomes a species of protection. We have not called it incidental, because its bearing on industry is known and considered in its imposition. So far as the element of protection remains, it should be subject to the judgment which shall be pronounced on what follows. If the " protection " of certain domestic products be found a good, then the revenue duties should be so disposed as to afford them all possible assistance at the same time that it serves the public purse. If, on the other hand, it is decided to be mischievous to substitute man's law for Nature's, such revenue duties should, as far as may consist with the public safety, be imposed on articles where it will not mislead industry.
2d, To encourage the growth or manufacture of certain commodities at home. This is the field in which protection joins battle of choice with freedom of industry. In all the other particular reasons, its argument is, as we shall see, linked with some real or fancied necessity; but here protection takes ground freely and fairly, virtually making two propositions which it assumes to defend: —
First, that the desires of man, as an industrial being, are so blind, so passionate, or so weak, as to require correction by the public will, enlightening, chastening, or stimulating..
Second, that the efforts of man, as an industrial being, are not sufficient, of themselves, to achieve the satisfaction of desires, without the aid of law, coercing him to that which he would not voluntarily undertake.
What is industrially wanting, then, in man's nature, either individually or in voluntary association, is to be supplied by such enactments as are called protective.
We will inquire about the second of these propositions, with the view of reducing both to one.
Man's industrial efforts can never be assisted in production by any legal enactment. Deriving all value from labor, we have here an adamantine basis, which no sophistry can move. Laws may be supposed to stimulate desires, or to repress them; but they cannot lay hand on man's labor, except to hinder it. It is a power given by the Creator, to work upon the constant properties of matter. It has no fellow in its work; its only tools are capital, its own creature, and nature, whose forces are fixed by God. Labor has its commission and its reward in itself. Just as surely as man cannot add one cubit to his stature, so is law impotent to help man's labor, except through man's desires.
There is another reason, more abstract, for reducing these two propositions to one. It is, that the efforts men will make are included in their desires. Those efforts are those desires going out after their objects. Man's work is man's want active.
We have thus to consider only the first proposition in the theory of protection; namely, that the desires of man, in the economic sense, need government by law. Men, as consumers, are to be shut off from certain objects to which they naturally incline; and, as capitalists or laborers, are to be shut up to certain efforts, which, so far as the legislation has any influence, are not the direct, simple, and proper means to the satisfaction of existing wants. And all this not at all in the interests of morality or good government, but wholly with a view to the greater wealth and industrial prosperity of the community. This proposition has its only basis in a want of confidence in the intelligence of the people to direct their own desires, and of the competency of labor to gratify such desires. The proposition here reaches a point where there is no argument. Consciousness and experience must affirm or deny sharply and decisively. Such wisdom or power, we believe, has not been vouchsafed to legislators, whether absolute or representing the will of a people.