Here’s a letter to the Huffington Post:
Ian Fletcher’s “No, Free Trade Didn’t Lift Millions Out of Poverty ” (Dec. 3) is a perfect specimen for how to write an atrociously bad article – one in which straw men are slain, arguments misconstrued, reality misinterpreted, and outright falsehoods presented as if they are indisputable truths.
Contrary to Mr. Fletcher’s grotesquely mistaken suggestion, no free-trade proponent has ever argued that free trade is sufficient to create mass flourishing. Even worse is Mr. Fletcher’s laughably wrong assertion that “[e]conomic history makes very clear that free trade per se is a bad idea for developing nations.” Apparently Mr. Fletcher is unfamiliar with Hong Kong, which has for more than sixty years held fast to a unilateral policy of virtually complete free trade. In 1960 per-capita income in that free-trade nation was on par with that of poor Greece – or about 18 percent of that in the United States of 1960. Today Hong Kong’s per-capita income is the seventh highest in the world – 124 percent higher than that of today’s Greece and above even that in the U.S. today.
The example of Hong Kong also proves wrong Mr. Fletcher’s suggestion that mercantilism – a cronyist policy of protectionism and other special favors – is historically a critical component of economic growth.
Finally, anyone tempted to fall for Mr. Fletcher’s ignorant brief on behalf of protectionism should consider that, while Uncle Sam has indeed never followed a policy of unsullied free trade with other nations, the U.S. Constitution since its ratification has guaranteed that free trade has always reigned within the United States. If Mr. Fletcher is correct that free trade impoverishes rather than enriches, how does he explain the steady and tremendous enrichment of the likes of New Yorkers, Virginians, Indianans, and Floridians who have always traded freely with the likes of Hawaiians, Texans, Californians, and Minnesotans? Surely, the mere collecting of a number of different political jurisdictions – such as the 50 U.S. States – under an overarching sovereign authority does not turn an impoverishing economic practice into an enriching one.
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
(I thank Peter Smoot for the pointer to Fletcher’s essay.)