Stationary Bandits, Plunder, and Trade Negotiations

by Don Boudreaux on July 24, 2006

in Trade

Along with Doug Irwin, I believe that the most promising way available to further reduce restrictions on international trade is through multi-lateral trade negotiations — most notably, of course, those negotiations that take place under the auspices of the World Trade Organization.  I wish that it weren’t so; I wish that each government would on its own refuse to inflict trade restrictions on its subjects.  But that’s not what governments do.  At root, governments are stationary bandits, skilled chiefly at creating and extracting rents from innocent people.

This fact is why, despite my recognition of the practical usefulness of multi-lateral trade negotiations among representatives of most of the world’s stationary bandits, I suffer surreal disgust when I read reports such as this one in today’s Wall Street Journal.  This report is on how the Doha Round just broke down over farm subsidies and trade barriers.

These are negotiations among bandits whose bread and butter is the creation of rents — of artificial profits to be enjoyed by members of special-interest groups who can be trusted to use part of their booty to help keep each stationary bandit securely in power so that he or she can continue robbing innocent others.

So we have the spectacle of these bandits, these thugs, negotiating with each other over how much each one will reduce the plundering it inflicts on "its" citizens in return for promises from the other plunders to reduce the plundering they inflict on "their" citizens.

And because "our" plunderers damn sure won’t stop plundering me and my fellow Americans simply because it’s the right thing to do, I am, at one level, obliged to applaud when our plunderers come to the table with plunderers from elsewhere and negotiate over how they will all mutually reduce the extent of their plundering.

Finally, when these negotiations break down, we must endure explanations from one horde of plunderers that a particular form of plundering (for example, its subsidies to farmers) is in the best interest of its plundered citizens — along with explanations from "our" plunderers that our best interests are served only if "our" plunderers continue plundering us for at least as long as plunderers elsewhere plunder others.

It’s loathsome.


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