All posts by Joel Schlosberg

Zombie Isms of the Protectionists

Made in America: an iconic Spanish one-liner delivered by an Austrian action hero, filmed by an Israeli cinematographer for a Canadian director. Photo by Joel Schlosberg. CC0 License.

Ghouls and vampires weren’t the only things refusing to die at the end of October. Oren Cass disinterred centuries-old economic fallacies in “Why Trump Is Right About Tariffs” (The Wall Street Journal, October 27).

It has been over a century and a half since the American Free-Trade League imported the words of Frederic Bastiat across the Atlantic “to convince the people of the United States of the folly and wrongfulness of the Protective system” in an edition of the book they titled Sophisms of the Protectionists (better and more simply known as Economic Sophisms). And pundits have had six decades to learn from Murray Rothbard’s observation that a clear look at the notion “that exports should be encouraged by the government and imports discouraged” reveals it to be “a tissue of fallacy; for what is the point of exports if not to purchase imports?”

Yet Cass blithely asserts that “domestic production has value to a nation, so a tariff that gives it preferential treatment can be sensible and even, to use the economist’s favored term, efficient.”

If they indeed provided consumers with better goods, “preferential treatment” would be exactly what American suppliers didn’t need to stay competitive.  As James Bovard has explained, “Australia is among the world’s most efficient sugar, beef, and dairy producers” — all of which were omitted from the scope of George W. Bush’s United States-Australia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act (AUFTA), while “in return, the United States agreed to exempt the Australian pharmaceutical industry and film industry from vigorous American competition.”

AUFTA was inspired by Bill Clinton’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which in turn drew on earlier trade policy; as Rothbard noted in 1993’s “The NAFTA Myth,” they “have converted an unfortunate [George W.’s father George H.W.] Bush treaty into a horror of international statism.”  Proto-Trumpist restrictions on free trade under the guise of Free Trade acronyms also gives the lie to Cass’s claim that “the school of thought that dismisses the case for tariffs is also a school that dismisses the possibility of the world in which we live.”

If we did live in a world of free trade, the “complex supply chains” that Cass wants to keep within  American shores to support “building and repairing billion-dollar warships” would be replaced, not by the “sailcloth and gunpowder” Cass suggests were enough to satisfy Adam Smith’s exception to free trade for essential military goods in the eighteenth century, but by a twenty-first century update of Bastiat’s proposed replacement of armadas “vomiting fire, death, and desolation over our cities” by the “merchant vessel, which comes to offer in free and peaceable exchange, produce for produce.”

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “Zombie Isms of the Protectionists” by Joel Schlosberg, Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman [Wasilla, Alaska], November 9, 2023

The Exit from Amazon is a Double-Click Away

Puck’s J.S. Pughe envisioned government shining a light on trusts, when its suppression of price signals is what keeps them in the dark. Public domain.

Does the author of Little Brother love Big Brother?

Probably not. Still, the Cory Doctorow calling for “restoring the enforcement program of the federal government” (“The Second-Best Time to Slay Amazon is Now,” The New York Times, September 29) seems to have forgotten what he learned … and taught.

Little Brother is one of Doctorow’s sci-fi novels, but its grassroots uprising against the Department of Homeland Security was modeled after, and unashamedly presented as a role model for, real-life pushback to the post-9/11 surveillance state. Its introduction includes nonfictional denunciations of the NSA and TSA. Yet Doctorow entrusts the DOJ to fight the threat of two-day shipping rather than terrorism.

Doctorow does concede that Amazon profits from “vast sums in subsidies from state and local governments,” though the prolific documenter of intellectual property abuse misses the chance to highlight its indirect subsidy. Apple paid to license Amazon’s “1-Click” checkout patent, sparing iTunes customers a redundant second mouse mash, after Barnes & Noble not doing so for its website got them sued.

Doctorow sees cyberspace, unmoored from “constraints of empires grounded in physical goods,” as ripe for canny cornering. A decade ago, Times contributor Adam Davidson failed to foresee the rise of streaming services that avoided “the cost of digging up roads and sidewalks and hiring a fleet of technicians to draw wire” in building alternatives to cable television.

The remainder of Doctorow’s account of Amazon’s rise stresses sheer monetary muscle, using “seemingly bottomless coffers” to “extinguish any upstart that dared to compete with it,” aided by Ronald Reagan’s replacement of a “suspicion of corporate power” with deregulation of the Progressive Era’s antitrust regime.

In fact, as historian Gabriel Kolko explained in The Triumph of Conservatism, “the major demands of politically oriented big businessmen” were what “gave progressivism its essential character.” Doctorow calls for Joe Biden to reverse the “decline since the Carter administration” of trust-busting. Reagan actually halted the steps towards rolling back regulations that entrenched incumbent industries spearheaded by the previous president and assisted by Biden in Congress. Even the most over-the-top pro-finance pop culture of Reagan’s terms, like the cinematic comedies Trading Places and The Secret of My Succe$s, championed the leeway for nimble outsiders to outpace the old-money establishment.

The Doctorow who writes that “sellers became increasingly reliant on Amazon to display and deliver their goods” over the first decades of the 2000s is the same one who garners publicity, and sales, by providing free downloads of books such as Little Brother.

On the consumer side, Amazon’s “captive base of readers” has an open door. Prime’s bountiful buffet of services may seem unbeatable, but I let my subscription lapse when it just didn’t offer enough for the price, and the time required to navigate its disorganized offerings, that couldn’t be obtained elsewhere. Removing the ability to play album tracks in order was the last straw.

The federal government Doctorow champions as the opponent of Amazon’s “calcified edifice of expensively purchased pro-monopoly precedent” is a far more extensive, and costly, monopolist.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “The Exit from Amazon is a Double-Click Away” by Joel Schlosberg, CounterPunch, October 4, 2023
  2. “The Exit from Amazon is a Double-Click Away” by Thomas L. Knapp [sic], The Newton Kansan, October 6, 2023

The Raw-Dealed Actor/Teacher Show

Photo by Keizers. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The Wall Street Journal now realizes that income inequality can be a source of social problems.

No, its famously pro-proprietor commentators haven’t signed up for union cards.  Two different editorials in the August 28 opinion pages come not to praise labor organizing but to bury it, whether it’s South American schoolteachers whose policies “put unions above children” according to Mary Anastasia O’Grady in “Socialism Sinks Venezuela’s Schools,” or Sacramento screenwriters hitting up California for what an unsigned editorial dubs “Jobless Benefits for Susan Sarandon.”

What stands out is the unlikelihood of suddenly developing a tender concern for workers in fields without Sarandon-style stars to draw attention to their cause during the most contentious film industry strike in decades (followed closely by O’Grady decrying the use of schoolchildren as “a good prop for communists” while capitalists are equally happy to use a captive audience to prop up their own profits). Sarandon and actors struggling from a lack of comparable name recognition have more clout joining together. Meanwhile, loyal audiences perennially show up for Sarandon vehicles like The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Thelma & Louise precisely because they get more than a movie ticket’s face value out of them.

More insidious is the Journal‘s implication that pro-strike partisans are only “now seeking to put their thumb on the bargaining scale” after the “level playing field for unions and management” put in place by the Taft-Hartley Act in 1947.  In fact, as Murray Rothbard has observed, “it was the Taft-Hartley Act” itself that was responsible for “taming as well as privileging” unions and leading them “into the cozy junior partnership with Big Business and Big Government that we know so well today.”

The Journal views subsidies for strikers as inadvertently providing “even more incentive to use artificial intelligence to replace workers” than the course of technological progress resisted by flesh-and-blood thespians.  Yet it was cybernetician Stafford Beer, in the aftermath of his efforts to build a participatory computerized economy for leftist leader Salvador Allende in Chile, who foresaw moving past “the cultural myths that all technology is dehumanizing.”

Beer asked why “we shall prefer to sit a hundred pupils uncomfortably in front of a human teacher who hopes he understands relativity … than to give the individual pupil access to videotape recordings which he can replay to his hearts content, of Albert Einstein — who could be as lucid as the day.”

Half a century after Beer noted that “a computer can be interrogated, explored, used, continuously and in different ways by a few hundred pupils at once,” devices orders of magnitude more powerful are still being misused to “condition the pupil to give the right (in quotes) answers to a set of trivial questions.” O’Grady dictates that Southern-hemisphere socialists “track students” and “administer standardized tests.” Yet as Beer hoped, “the machine could be used as a real liberator” at a truly free, and thus fair, bargaining table.

New Yorker Joel Schlosberg is a senior news analyst at The William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.


  1. “OPINION: The raw-dealed actor/teacher show” by Joel Schlosberg, The Richmond Observer [Rockingham, North Carolina] September 5, 2023
  2. “The Raw-Dealed Actor/Teacher Show” by Joel Schlosberg, CounterPunch, September 7, 2023
  3. “The Raw-Dealed Actor/Teacher Show” by Joel Schlosberg, The Newton Kansan, September 8, 2023