John Maynard Keynes:
I see three outstanding dangers in economic nationalism and in the movements towards national self-sufficiency, imperilling their success. The first is Silliness–the silliness of the doctrinaire. It is nothing strange to discover this in movements which have passed somewhat suddenly from the phase of midnight high-flown talk into the field of action. We do not distinguish, at first, between the color of the rhetoric with which we have won a people’s assent and the dull substance of the truth of our message. There is nothing insincere in the transition. Words ought to be a little wild–for they are the assault of thoughts upon the unthinking. But when the seats of power and authority have been attained, there should be no more poetic license.
I found this quote on Paul Krugman’s blog. In the paper it comes from “National Self-Sufficiency” Keynes states that self-sufficiency in some things is a luxury society may be willing to pay for – this makes sense given that people inherently value goods made domestically by more, even if there is no difference in the quality or prices. Stats NZ 2008 year book took a survey that recorded 90% of people felt this way.
However, this article was merely a critique of economists that felt that “free-trade” in itself is the goal – in this quote he turns the argument back onto the “economic nationalists” when try to push self-sufficiency as the goal.
Ultimately, the goal of any policy should be to increase the happiness of society. The language of economics allows us to describe situations at this level in a fairly “objective fashion” – a tool that allows us to assault the thoughts of the unthinking and hopefully put these issues in their proper context.