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Family Feud

Here’s a letter to a new correspondent:

Mr. Bill Sieta

Mr. Sieta:

Attempting to shame me into abandoning my support for free trade, you ask how I would “feel if [my] brothers and sisters stopped eating at [my] restaurant, or stopped buying their clothes from [me] just because they can now get those things for lower prices at some stranger’s store.”

As it happens, my siblings do not pay me to cook or to make clothing for them.  They pay strangers to supply them with these – and with countless other – goods and services.  My siblings don’t even pay me to teach them and their children economics (which is my area of specialization).  Should I be upset?  Should I scorn and curse my siblings for their refusal to buy their meals and clothing from me at prices that would make it profitable for me to supply them with meals and clothing?

I reject your premise that the people of a nation form one big family that differs from real families in no respects other than that it is a great deal larger.  But if you insist on treating all Americans as members of one big family, let me ask how you would feel if your real brothers and sisters were to threaten you with violence if you choose to buy your meals and clothing from suppliers other than them.  Would you accept such a threat as a warm, normal, and appropriate manifestation of brotherly or sisterly love?  I’ll bet not.  Real family members don’t threaten violence upon their loved ones in order to artificially drum up business.  But such decidedly unlovable threats are precisely what is done to me and to you by all of our American ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ who use the state to penalize us if we insist on spending our money as we choose rather than as our ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ prefer us to spend it.

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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