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Josiah Quincy on Trade Restrictions

Filip Jolevski took my Principles of Microeconomics class at George Mason University six years ago.  He was then a freshman and had little idea what economics is.  You’ll pardon me bragging that my class sparked in Filip a deep interest in economics.  He’s now a second-year doctoral student at GMU Economics.  I expect great things from him as a researcher and teacher!

This morning, Filip drew my attention to this speech by Josiah Quincy, probably from 1807, on the embargo that President Thomas Jefferson imposed, in late 1807, on American ships trading in foreign ports.  I agree with Filip that much of what Quincy says is an eloquent brief for unobstructed, free trade.  Here’s a passage:

Every class of men feels it.  Every interest in the nation is affected by it.  The merchant, the farmer, the planter, the mechanic, the laboring poor – all are sinking under its weight.  But there is this that is peculiar to it, that there is no equality in its nature.  It is not like taxation, which raises revenue according to the average of wealth; burdening the rich and letting the poor go free.  But it presses upon the particular classes of society, in an inverse ratio to the capacity of each to bear it.  From those who have much, it takes indeed something.  But from those who have little, it takes all.  For what hope is left to the industrious poor when enterprise, activity, and capital are proscribed their legitimate exercise?  The regulations of society forbid what was once property to be so any longer.  For property depends on circulation, on exchange; on ideal value.  The power of property is all relative.  It depends not merely upon opinion here, but upon opinion in other countries.  If it be cut off from its destined market, much of it is worth nothing, and all of it is worth infinitely less than when circulation is unobstructed.


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