An Oxymoron to Beat All Oxymorons

by Don Boudreaux on March 10, 2018

in Myths and Fallacies, Trade, War

Here’s a letter to a new correspondent:

Mr. Pete Davis

Mr. Davis:

You fault me for my failure to “support President Trump as he leads us into a long overdue trade war against China.”

I’ll not here repeat the many arguments and facts that I’ve offered on my blog – and that have been offered by many others more articulate than I am – against the claim that we Americans are harmed by our trade with the Chinese.  Instead, I simply protest the term “trade war.”

No two human activities are as opposite one another as are trade and war.  Trade is voluntary; war is coercive.  Trade is peaceful; war is violent.  Trade enriches; war impoverishes.  Trade is a mutually advantageous exchange of property rights; war is a bilateral destruction and confiscation of property rights – destruction and confiscation that never are mutually advantageous and that too often, in the end, are advantageous to no one.  When trading, each party improves his welfare only by attending to, and enhancing, the welfare of others; when warring, each party improves his welfare only by attacking, and diminishing, the welfare of others.  Those who trade with each other have an interest in each other’s well-being; those who war against each other have an interest in each other’s annihilation.  Trade enhances life; war ends life.

What are called “trade wars” are indeed wars, but they involve only war and no trade.  Every so-called “trade war” is each government making war on its own citizens, coercing them not to trade as they would otherwise peacefully trade.

The term “trade war” makes no more sense than do the terms “good evil” or “peaceful violence.”  We should stop using it.  We must find a better term to describe governments’ waging war upon those of their own citizens who dare to trade with others.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
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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