Fingleton 1; Strawman 0

by Don Boudreaux on November 20, 2017

in Myths and Fallacies, Trade

Here’s a letter to The American Conservative:

Eamonn Fingleton’s long essay “There is No Such Thing as ‘Free Trade’” (Nov. 20th) is a cavalcade of confusions – confusions clarified countless times, in countless ways, by countless people.  Having neither the space nor the time to clear up yet again each of the many confusions that constitute Mr. Fingleton’s essay, I focus only on the first of the alleged “myths” that he lists about the case for free trade – namely: “Myth 1. America’s major trading partners are in principle sincerely committed to free trade and are doing their best to open their markets to U.S. exports.”

I challenge Mr. Fingleton to find a single passage in the writings or speeches of any serious, pro-free-trade scholar in which it is said, or even implied, that the validity of the case for free trade in any particular country depends upon other countries being “committed to free trade.”  I do not seek evidence from the pronouncements of politicians or pundits; such people routinely offer invalid arguments.  Rather, I seek evidence from the writings and speeches of serious and scholarly advocates of free-trade – thinkers such as Adam Smith, Frederic Bastiat, Richard Cobden, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman, as well as still-living trade scholars such as Leland Yeager, Jagdish Bhagwati, Razeen Sally, Douglas Irwin, Pierre Lemieux, Dan Ikenson, and Dan Griswold.

If he searches the works of serious trade scholars, Mr. Fingleton will indeed find acknowledgement that the freer is trade globally, the more prosperous will people be globally.  In his searches Mr. Fingleton will find also a recognition of rare conditions that are believed by some to justify isolated uses of trade restraints.  But try as he might, Mr. Fingleton will find no support for his implication that the economic case for free trade in any individual country, such as America, depends upon other countries being committed to free trade.  The economic case for a policy of free trade recommends that, in general, each country abolish all of its protective tariffs regardless of the trade policies of other countries.

In short, it is simply untrue that we Americans must wait for non-Americans to stop artificially impoverishing themselves before we stop artificially impoverishing ourselves.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

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