Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on August 20, 2014

in Seen and Unseen, Trade

… is from page 87 of University of London historian Frank Trentmann’s 2008 book, Free Trade Nation: Commerce, Consumption, and Civil Society in Modern Britain; I again thank Walter Grinder for bringing this excellent study to my attention:

Free Traders realized that Tariff Reform [the early 20th-century mercantilist effort to raise tariffs in Britain] would not be defeated by statistics alone.  Facts and good arguments do not win by themselves.  They were also acutely aware that they faced a more difficult task than Tariff Reformers in communicating their programme.  A tariff promises immediate, direct benefits for particular industries.  This makes it easy to organize strong, concentrated support.  For Free Trade it is harder to organize collective action: with the exception of trades like the cotton industry, which depended on cheap imported raw material, the benefits are more diffuse and indirect, spread out across society as a whole.  It affects most people slightly rather than a few people greatly.

And so it is as it has always been: one of the flaws of the invisible hand of the market is that it is indeed invisible.  To see it, to become cognizant of it, requires intellectual effort beyond merely observing immediate consequences.

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