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Location, Location, Location

Here’s a letter to a Cafe Hayek reader:

Mr. Jim Tamm

Mr. Tamm:

You’re “put off” by my “rigid opposition to any and all limits on trade.”  “Surely,” you claim, “some benefit of doubt is deserved for officials tasked to carry out the trade policies of our nation.”

What you call “trade policies” are interferences with voluntary commercial transactions – interferences done not to help “our nation” but, rather, to bloat the profits and wages of politically influential producer groups at the expense of the masses.  The parties to these peaceful transactions would be be left unmolested if each lived in the same political jurisdiction as the other.  But for no reason other than the economically inconsequential fact that these parties live in different political jurisdictions, state officials obstruct their commerce.  The thuggish nature of such obstructions aren’t transformed into something different and sweeter by calling these obstructions “trade policies.”

Suppose that Uncle Sam hired agents to swarm out across the country, to each and every home and business, to daily seize from each of these homes and businesses some percentage of all goods that these agents determine are foreign-made.  I’m confident that most Americans would not tolerate such thievery.  But let Uncle Sam change merely the location of operation of these agents – let Uncle Sam instead have these agents seize or destroy the same percentage of foreign-made goods behind the cover of port warehouses – and suddenly such coercive and destructive interference with ordinary people’s affairs appears to be sanitized “trade policy.”

Yet because the economic consequences of the second of these alternative arrangements for reducing people’s access to foreign-made goods are identical to the consequences of the first of these arrangements, I see no reason to tolerate the second arrangement any more than I would tolerate the first.  The trade-obstructers’ location of operation is irrelevant.

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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