A Personal Encounter with an Unfair Trader

by Don Boudreaux on April 1, 2010

in Trade

I (and June Arunga and Tom Palmer) had something of a debate today with Lou Dobbs.  (More on the venue in a day or two.)

Dobbs argued that trade is free only if both parties deal with each other on equal terms — so that, for example, America’s trade with China can never be free unless and until Beijing removes all trade restrictions and stops all subsidies (or, at least, restricts and subsidizes Chinese trade no more than Uncle Sam restricts and subsidizes American trade).

I (and June and Tom) argued that, as good as it would be for Americans and, especially, the Chinese for Beijing to remove such restrictions and to halt all such subsidies, free trade for Americans would be achieved if Uncle Sam abolished all of his trade restrictions and subsidies, regardless of what any other government does.

Dobbs thought that this argument was simply hilarious.

I wanted to ask him (but did not get the opportunity) the following question:

DB: “Mr. Dobbs.  Will you buy my shoes – the ones now on my feet.  I’ll sell them to you for $100 – a more-than-fair price.”

I imagine that the ensuing conversation would have gone something like this:

LD: “What?  What are you talking about?  Of course I won’t buy your shoes.”

DB: “Why not?  I bought (and read) your book, Exporting America.”

LD: “So….??”

DB: “So you said that trade isn’t free unless both parties are equally willing to buy from the other – and that if party A isn’t willing to buy from party B, then party B harms himself by continuing nevertheless to buy from A.”

LD: “So…..??”

DB: “Stick with me, amigo.  I bought something from you.  You’ve bought nothing from me – even though I’m here making a sincere offer to sell my shoes to you.  You refuse to buy them.  Trade, therefore, isn’t free.  So clearly I should not have purchased your book; clearly I made myself worse off; clearly you are behaving unfairly.”

LD: ?????

(Please: no jokes about how I actually might have made myself worse off by buying his poorly reasoned book.)

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