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No Seller Has a Right to a Buyer’s Income

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Here’s my reply to to Cafe commenter Seth Hettena:

Commenting [2] on my blog (on this post [3]) you ask how to “protect” American workers from having their wages bid down by non-American workers.  I reject your question’s premise.

Your faulty premise is that workers have a property right in continuing to be paid their current incomes.  But because human labor is just one of countless goods and services that people in search of economic gain routinely sell to, and buy from, each other, your premise implies that any seller of any good or service has a property right in whatever income he or she currently earns.  It follows from your premise, therefore, that no buyer has a right to unilaterally reduce the amounts that she spends on any of the goods and services that she currently buys.  The reason is that if she reduces her expenditures on, say, beef in order to spend more on fish or on fowl, the incomes earned by ranchers – and by ranchers’ employees – necessarily fall.

So unless you believe that all buyers are morally and legally obliged never to reduce the amounts they spend on any good or service – unless you believe that consumers who are offered a better mousetrap by firm A must reject that offer if it means buying fewer inferior mousetraps from firm B – unless you believe that firm X violates the rights of rival firm Y (and of Y’s workers) if X improves its efficiency and passes on benefits of this improved efficiency in the form of lower prices that cause consumers to buy fewer outputs from Y – you should not suppose that any worker has in his or her current wages a ‘right’ that is violated whenever those buyers who have chosen in the past to pay those wages change their minds, for whatever reasons, and choose now to offer that worker lower, or even no, wages.

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

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