Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on January 13, 2018

in Adam Smith, Doux Commerce, Economics, Trade, War

… is from page 399 of Donald Winch’s 1996 book, Riches and Poverty: An Intellectual History of Political Economy in Britain, 1750-1834; among the ideas covered in this book is what Winch calls “the cosmopolitan promise contained within [Adam] Smith’s system of natural liberty”:

Nevertheless, Coleridge’s charge of ‘denationalisation’ does capture one of the enduring features imparted to the science by Smith, for which ‘cosmopolitan’ is still perhaps the best positive description.  It was displayed in idealistic form in that side of the Wealth of Nations about which [Thomas] Paine was most enthusiastic and Richard Cobden was later to uphold almost as a religion: commerce between nations treated as a pacific and unifying influence on the peoples and counsels of the world

DBx: A not-uncommon accusation is that free traders are “romantic” to suppose that the freer is trade, the more surely are the people of free(r)-trading countries united into a single large, dynamic, productive, global economy – a global economy in which prospects for war are very much reduced.  Far from “romantic,” I believe that this cosmopolitan prediction has largely proven to be correct.  But even if my belief here is mistaken, it remains the case that a far more unrealistically romantic notion is that economic nationalism will produce maximum possible prosperity within each country along with a  more peaceful and stable world.

At the very least, what is required on this front is a clear-eyed comparison of the realities of freer global trade with the realities of economic nationalism.  (By the way, today’s “Progressives” who embrace protective tariffs and other policies of economic nationalism should reflect not only upon the fact that on this front they are nearly perfectly aligned with the Bannon-Breitbart-Trump crowd, but also upon the reality that economic nationalism is no new or progressive or democratic idea and ideal: it was all the rage among 16th- and 17th-century monarchs and their Machiavellian ministers.)


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