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My Continuing Public Conversation with Ian Fletcher

7 March 2011

Mr. Ian Fletcher

Dear Ian:

In your latest essay at The Huffington Post, you allege that supporters of free trade are guilty of “social snobbery” (“The Social Snobbery of Free Trade,” March 7).  You offer three, and only three, pieces of evidence for this proposition.  The first is a quotation from New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, and the second is a quotation from Barack Obama – each suggesting that working-class people too quickly blame trade for whatever economic misfortunes they suffer.  The third piece of evidence is the fact that, while most members of the mainstream media are center-left on a majority of issues, they are well-paid and “lean right” on trade.

You masterfully massacre a straw man.  Contrary to your explicit claim in the case of Friedman, and your implication in the case of Obama, the pronouncements of economically confused journalists and professional politicians aren’t even remotely appropriate examples of the best arguments for free trade.

Here’s a challenge for you.  Search for examples of snobbery in the arguments for free trade made by scholars such as Adam Smith, Frederic Bastiat, Jagdish Bhagwati, Henry George, Daniel Griswold, Douglas Irwin, Fritz Machlup, Martin Wolf, and other economists and researchers who are recognized authorities on trade.  You’ll come up empty.  (Note: pointing out that many people do not understand economics is not an instance of snobbery.)

If nothing else, you have chutzpah to pin the label “snobs” on free traders – who argue that individuals ought simply be left free to spend their money in whatever ways they choose – while you promote a policy of giving third-party strangers in Washington the power to obstruct, for some allegedly higher good, these private, individual consumption choices.

Donald J. Boudreaux


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