I left this comment over at this particularly bad article at American Conservative, a sort of ultra-paleocon publication, as it was flagged up in the Arts & Letters Daily aggregator site. The AC article made various, and in my view foolishly wronghead, comments about Adam Smith, while neglecting to mention other aspects of his ideas, or mistakes, such as his mistaken attachment to a form of the labour theory of value (admittedly a mistake made by other classical economists and not really sorted out until the marginalist revolution of the late 19th Century). I note that Philip Salter, of the Adam Smith Institute, left a comment. Here is mine, which I thought I would republish here.
“Philip Salter has nicely rebutted many of the points of this remarkably bad article. But I would add this point to the argument, made here, that somehow there is a case for protectionism in giving “infant” industries a chance to get off the ground. It is sometimes argued that in the case of some of the “Asian Tigers” – Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, etc – that this is what happened. That is far too glib. Sure, some of these countries practised protection, but then again, as Philip Salter said, Hong Kong did not. Also, many African nations, which on a per capita basis were richer than Asia in 1945, often used subsidies, tariffs, quotas and many other restrictions, and those countries have been largely overtaken by Asia.”
For a good debunking of the whole “infant protectionist” argument, I recommend this article by R. E. Baldwin: “The Case Against Infant Industry Tariff Protection”; Journal of Political Economy 77 (May/June) 295-305, as cited on page 41 of “Reviving the Invisible Hand: The Case for Classical Liberalism in the 21st Century, by Deepak Lal. I suggest readers of this website study that book, if only to guard against the kind of nonsense that this publication has chosen to publish. In the meantime, I commend PJ O’Rourke’s recent excellent, and typically witty, study of Adam Smith.