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Serious and Pseudo-Serious Arguments About Trade

This post is one of the most disingenuous that I’ve ever read.  Read it for yourself and tell me if you agree (or not).  I’m not even quite sure that it isn’t an intentional spoof.

Consider, for example, this claim:

But the leading official voices for free trade today are the same people who have authored and championed bailouts for our banks and manufacturers and frenetic spending to prop up our companies. Also, today’s free trade evangelists regularly trample on the notion of free trade by backing subsidies for manufacturers and exporters.

For instance, newly confirmed Commerce secretary Gary Locke, during his two terms as Washington State governor, was very close to Boeing and Microsoft. In 2003, he pushed through a $3.2 billion package of special tax breaks for Boeing. More to the point, he heads an agency that spends taxpayer dollars to support American companies. Nevertheless, Locke has long espoused “free trade.”

If by “official voices” the author means the voices of government officials, then I agree — but no  sensible person this side of toddlerhood takes any statements of government officials to be the definitive arguments in favor of serious principles.  Government officials, by their very nature — or, by the very nature of the occupations they choose to pursue — are duplicitous, unprincipled, and untrustworthy representatives of any principles other than those of getting, maintaining, and strengthening their own power and tawdry glory.

The truest and best spokesmen for free trade are not any politicians you can name but, rather, scholars such as Leland Yeager, Jagdish Bhagwati, Doug Irwin, Johan Norberg, Martin Wolf, Dan Griswold, and the Cafe’s own Russ Roberts.

To find a modern politician who bleats his or her support for free trade and then to be be shocked! when that politician reveals himself or herself to be inconsistent in his or her views — or to be shocked! when he or she expresses positions at odds with the underlying principles upon which the most solid case for free trade rests — is a child’s game.  Such inconsistency is par for the course for politicians.  Such rogues ought never be represented as being the best champions (or even respectable champions) of any sound economic or ethical proposition.

To hold up members of the political class as offering the best arguments for free trade is akin to holding up a newly married Hollywood hunk and his drop-dead gorgeous new actress-bride as the foremost champions of monogamy and marital bliss.  Maybe they were serious when they pledged publicly to each other “til death do us part,” but surely when Mr. Hunk and Ms. Hubahubahuba divorce one year from now, no one will point to their divorce as evidence that the case for marriage is wanting.
I’ll say more in a follow-up post about this irritatingly disingenuous blog-post purporting to expose weaknesses in the case for free trade.


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