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An Open Letter to Sen. Sherrod Brown

28 September 2010

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)
United States Senate
Capitol Hill
Washington, DC

Dear Sen. Brown:

Pleading for restrictions on American consumers’ abilities to spend their money as they judge best, you proclaimed yesterday in the Senate that you “would love to go anywhere in the United States and have a public debate to show the public and show the American people how much this [international trade] has undermined our sovereignty, our wealth, our manufacturing base.”

I’ll be happy to debate you.  You name the time and place.

You talk about our sovereignty.  Your policies are a direct attack on consumer sovereignty – the right of each of us to spend our money as each of us chooses, as long as our ends are peaceable.  Consumer sovereignty is essential to competitive markets, for only if consumers are free to switch their patronage from one seller to another will sellers work hard to serve consumers rather than to exploit them.

You talk about our wealth.  Your policies would reduce our wealth.  The evidence is overwhelming that freer trade means higher and ever-improving standards of living for ordinary men and women – and that the anti-competitive policies that you champion result in low and stagnant living standards for all but the privileged few.  For just one review of this evidence, see Dartmouth economist Douglas Irwin’s book Free Trade Under Fire, 3rd ed. (Princeton University Press, 2009).

This evidence makes sense.  How can policies that restrict output, reduce competition, shrink the size of markets, and intentionally raise the prices of consumer goods, as well as of inputs, in the domestic market not reduce our wealth?

You talk about our manufacturing base.  Look at the evidence, Senator.  That base is doing just fine.  Just before the current downturn – in 2008 – inflation-adjusted manufacturing output in the U.S. was 13 percent higher than it was in 2000, 52 percent higher than in 1990, 84 percent higher than in 1980, and 133 percent higher than in 1970.

Your party claims to be “reality-based.”  I challenge you to live up to that claim by looking at the evidence and abandoning your commitment to a thoroughly discredited 16th-century ‘theory’ that asserts that national wealth is enhanced by monopoly privileges.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030