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Diktats are Not Rules

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Pleading for punitive taxes on Americans who buy imported steel, Thomas Gibson of the American Iron and Steel Institute insists that we all should follow the rules of trade (Letters, July 24).  Mr. Gibson is right about following rules, but his interpretation of those rules is fundamentally flawed.

The most foundational rule of trade is that consumers get to spend their money as they see fit and, hence, that only those producers who best satisfy consumers (as judged exclusively by consumers) get to stay in business.  Period.  Mr. Gibson, lobbying for tariffs on consumers who spend their money as they see fit, flips the rule around.  According to him, consumers’ spending choices are legitimate only if such spending conforms to regulations imposed by government (which is always beholden, to one degree or another, to powerful producers such as Mr. Gibson’s employers).

Contrary to what Mr. Gibson would have us believe, the “rules” that he demands be enforced are in fact government regulations that break the rules of trade – regulations premised on the impoverishing notion that trade’s purpose is to enrich existing domestic producers rather than to give consumers maximum possible scope to enrich their lives as they choose.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030​