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‘Personal Security’ Reasons for Not Trading?

Howard Harrison (in one of his comments here) worries about the national-security implications of free trade.

I don’t worry about such implications.  One reason I don’t worry is that the evidence overwhelmingly shows that freer trade is associated with greater prosperity — and with greater prosperity people are better able to defend themselves from aggressors.

Another reason I don’t worry is that the evidence also shows that freer trade is associated with a lower likelihood of war with trading partners.

But another reason I don’t worry is that I realize that, whenever I — Don Boudreaux — trade with others I expose myself to specific risks that I would otherwise avoid.  That is, if I let myself dwell on the matter, I might conclude that trade outside of my household poses “personal security” — or “household security” — risks that, in my ignorance of what I might expose myself to as I trade with strangers across town and across the USA, I’d best avoid.

It is, after all, possible that the can of soup I buy at the supermarket will be tainted with poison; it’s possible that going to the Saturday-morning farmers’ market near my home will result in my being gunned down by a madman or by a thief who fancies my wallet or my wife.  Perhaps a trip to the multiplex will end with my dying at the hands of an arsonist who, for whatever sick or selfish reason, torches the theater.  How can I be sure that an ordinary trip to the local pharmacy won’t turn into my death sentence: a fired employee could well ‘go postal.’  And local restaurants?  Fugetaboudem!  Each one is full of strangers who could, at any moment, pull out a knife or a gun or a can of gasoline and start killing everyone in the establishment.

These consequences are indeed possible.  In fact, they actually happen from time to time.  And yet, very few of us conclude from the fact that such a tragedy could befall us that such a tragedy will befall us with sufficient likelihood to justify our closing ourselves off to the world outside of our immediate families.  We’d be much poorer — and, although safer from being killed by strangers, at much higher risk of dying from the likes of disease, malnutrition, and household injuries.

I’m quite confident that, compared to hunkering down at home 24/7 and being self-sufficient, the higher risks of my or my wife or my son being murdered when we choose to take an ordinary trip to the shopping mall, the supermarket, or a local restaurant exceed  the increased risks of our being killed as result of Uncle Sam permitting Americans to trade freely with people in other countries.  I have no hard evidence to support this hypothesis – but no one has any evidence to contradict it.


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