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Fair Trade Is Less Fair (and Less Free) than Free Trade

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

Todd Tucker wants Uncle Sam to reject free trade in favor of “fair trade” (Letters, Nov. 22).

While every decent person applauds fairness and condemns unfairness, “fairness” is far too fuzzy a concept to guide public policy.  To see why, imagine what the state of First Amendment law would be like were only a few words of that amendment changed to make its guiding principle fairness rather than freedom:

“Congress shall make no unfair law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the fair exercise thereof; or abridging the fairness of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people fairly to assemble, and to petition the Government fairly for a redress of grievances.”

Is there any doubt that replacing “free” with “fair” in this context would remove all teeth from the First Amendment?  In the same way, a policy of fair trade rather than free trade would, in practice, be a policy of unfree – and, by the way, unfair – monopoly privileges for politically influential domestic producers.

Donald J. Boudreaux


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