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

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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 [2]).

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