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Free Trade: Are There Really Losers Over Appropriately Considered Spans of Time?

Carl, a high-school history teacher from South Carolina, writes to ask how, if ever, do I consider the “losers from free trade” in my defense of complete, unilateral free trade.  It’s a good question.  Being busy at the moment, I content myself here with reprising the following blog post from January 2007.


Trade and Romance



Talking about winners and losers from trade is much like taking about winners and losers from romance.  Nearly everyone of us has had his or her heart broken at least once.  And yet the typical person, even after enduring genuine pain from the unwanted transfer of The Other’s affections from him or her to some (often despised) rival, returns to action, looking to receive love in exchange for love to be given.

Suppose that Joe’s much-loved wife, Jane, just left him for another man.  We don’t abuse language by describing Joe as “a loser” in the game of love.  But we clearly here refer only to Joe’s immediate situation.  He is suffering now.  He has just endured a genuine and painful loss.

And yet, is he truly a “loser” at romance?  This question isn’t absurd.  After all, when he was dating Jane he likely ousted some other identifiable man or even men from the potential of enjoying her amorous affections.  So if we look at the longer, fuller time span, we see that Joe “won” earlier and “lost” later.  Indeed, only because Joe initially won Jane’s hand was he able to lose it later.

None of the above, of course, will heal Joe’s broken heart as he watches Jane walk, luggage in tow, out of the door, her toothbrush already at Hank’s house.  Joe will likely hate romance at that moment, and for many moments afterward.

But even if Joe fails ever to find another woman to share his affections, it’s inaccurate to describe him unambiguously as a “loser” at romance.  He was once a winner — and he might again win on another go-round.  And, of course, he owes his very existence to romance.

Like all analogies, this one is imperfect.  Dear Readers, be assured that I’m aware of the many imperfections.  Still, the essential similarity remains: not only did romance create each of us, but almost all of us who “lose” at it lose only what we previously won.  And how many of us, recognizing the frequent and deep and undeniable pain that romance often causes, would argue that this downside of romance makes romance a curse that we would be better off, all of us, to avoid?


See also this follow-up post.


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