… is from page 372 of Benjamin Rogge’s excellent 1967 essay titled “East-West Trade,” as this essay is reprinted in A Maverick’s Defense of Freedom, the 2010 collection of Rogge’s essays that is edited by Dwight Lee:
Freedom to enter into voluntary exchanges is the essence of economic freedom, and it is presumptively immoral for the state or any other agency to interfere with such exchanges.
DBx: Clever theorists and rent-seekers can indeed conjure up any number of hypotheticals in which the man on the left or the man on the right (or even both) will make himself worse off if these two men trade with each other. The human imagination can be expansive when it has incentives to be expansive. But as Steve Landsburg observed in yesterday’s Bonus Quotation of the Day, the educated person (I would say the wise person) is always led “to ask ‘Is it plausible?’ in an intelligent way.”
Is it plausible that some third man – perhaps one with a bigger stick or rock, and who is here just out of view but who is very real – will consistently know better what is best for each of these two individuals than do each of these two individuals? Is it plausible that some third man – one who certainly does possess a bigger stick or rock, and who can personally profit from obstructing any voluntary trades that these two men might engage in with each other – can be trusted to wield his offensive weapon against these two men only in ways that will improve the well-being of these two men? Is it plausible to believe that voluntary trades between these two men are mutually beneficial if, between them, there runs no political boundary, but that such trades become destructive of one or the other’s well-being if a political boundary is drawn between them?
Of course, none of these hypotheticals is plausible. Yet mercantilists and other protectionists, when they aren’t simply displaying abject economic ignorance, invariably spin and weave implausible hypotheticals to make their case for the third, better-weaponed person to interfere with the voluntary trades of the other, peaceful people.