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True Freedom of Trade

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Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

John Barchilon opines that “Free trade can only be free among nations with equal standards of living” (Letters [2], July 13).

While it’s difficult to imagine why anyone would deny that mutually agreed upon, voluntary exchanges between an American and, say, someone in China are free, Mr. Barchilon apparently assumes that if Lee can produce widgets at a lower cost than can Jones, then somehow Jones’s purchase of widgets from Lee is both unfree as well as harmful to Jones.

I challenge Mr. Barchilon to put his assumption to the test by refusing ever again to trade with anyone who offers to sell to him a good at a price lower than the cost that he, Mr. Barchilon, would incur to produce that good himself.  Let Mr. Barchilon, for example, no longer buy cars from Ford or Toyota; let him build his cars himself.  If his assumption is correct, Mr. Barchilon will thereby be made rich by no longer getting cars on the cheap from specialist auto producers; his wealth will soar by his now having the privilege of incurring huge costs to build cars himself; his prosperity (and freedom!) will swell now that he forgoes the slavery of trading with producers willing to sell him cars at costs far lower than he must incur to manufacture his own set of wheels.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030