An Open Letter to A Correspondent

by Don Boudreaux on October 3, 2010

in Civil Society, Complexity & Emergence, Prices, Science, Seen and Unseen, Standard of Living, The Economy, Trade

3 October 2010

Mr. Jason C________

Dear Mr. C________:

Thanks for your e-mail.  You are, however, mistaken to accuse me, when I defend free trade, of caring “only about low prices and narrow economic facts.”

It’s true that I often point out that free trade keeps prices in the domestic market low.  I do so chiefly because opponents of free trade frequently overlook this fact, and discount both its immediate as well as its longer-run importance to consumers’ standard of living.

In fact, though, my case for free trade is not exclusively, or even ultimately, an economic one.  A deeper justification for free trade is that it civilizes and enlightens.  Consider, for example, Thomas Cahill’s description of ancient Athens when that city opened itself to trade: “As these familiar clustered settlements, known to agricultural societies throughout the world, grew into cities – with demarcated streets, temples and other official buildings, marketplaces and other gathering centers, import-export warehouses, and docks where exotic cargoes and even more exotic foreigners were unloaded – power shifted somewhat from landed aristocrats to the better-placed urbanites, who controlled trade and who in the diversity of their experience began to think new thoughts.”*

But the most fundamental reason I support free trade is that it is immoral for me to tell you how to spend your money and for you to tell me how to spend my money.  And it is immoral for the likes of Pres. Obama or Sen. Graham to tell you and me and other Americans how to spend our money.  For me, defense of free trade is ultimately a defense of right over wrong, peace over force, and mutual respect and tolerance over self-righteous condescension, intolerance, and greed camouflaged as dispassionate economic policy.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

* Thomas Cahill, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (New York: Anchor Books, 2003), p. 109.

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