I used to think steel was the poster child for the evils of protective tariffs, perhaps because of my disgust with Dubya when he used steel tariffs to solicit votes in Pennsylvania.
I flirted with the ethanol tariff example as an alternative, because the $0.54 a gallon tariff on Brazilian cane ethanol was so outrageously high - and so thoroughly hypocritical when our elected representatives were simultaneously subsidizing corn ethanol as a partial solution to the energy crisis and 'global warming'.
Then again, because of the availability of precision, in-depth analysis of Reagan’s motorcycle protectionism on behalf of a single company, and the fact that even the Gipper could betray his stated principles, those tariffs were a brief contender as quintessential.
Lately, perhaps because of the long history of sugar tariffs and that they've been in the news, I’m leaning toward sugar as the best example of protectionist perfidy.
These four examples cover agriculture, heavy industry, and manufacturing, so there’s not much room to argue in favor of protectionism on any sectoral basis.
IAC, I think this article on sugar wonderfully illustrates the corrupt crony-capitalist nature of protectionism - from protecting slave owners to why Nabisco would move Oreo manufacturing to Mexico to farmland prices in Minnesota to causus belli for the Spanish-American war - all while screwing over American consumers and enriching lobbyists in order for politicians to buy votes.
Protectionism is accepted because the Yuge economic damage is unseen, the insidious moral erosion is smothered in populist platitude, and the proponents are organized while the victims are not.
Without economic freedom there is NO freedom, and whatever example of protectionist venality is used to reveal its pillages, protectionism itself is the poster child for the armed robbery of economic freedom.
A friend writes:
"If I want to sell widgets to buyers in Canada, and Canada puts a tariff on my widgets, is there free trade?," as if the point were that without fully free trade we shouldn't remove our tariffs.
I haven't been clear enough.
My clarifying response:
"No, because Canada is interfering with the trade.
My point is that just because Canada indulges stupid policies doesn’t mean we have to. We should not ‘retaliate’ because that hurts our economy, our people, our morals, and our jobs.
When I said, “Aw, come on, all the other kids are doing it!” to my mother she said (as your mother probably said to you) some variation of, “If all the other kids were hitting themselves in the head with a hammer, should you?”"