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This Is No Way to Limit Government

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Here’s a letter to Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government – at the end of which I challenge him to a public debate:

You call [2] on the U.S. government to stop subsidizing U.S. sugar producers “but only after other major international sugar dumpers like Brazil, India and Thailand agree to stop subsidizing their sugar industries in a reciprocal manner.”

Your condition for ending Uncle Sam’s subsidies reveals a poor understanding of economics.

When a government subsidizes producers within its jurisdiction, it forcibly redistributes unearned riches to a handful of producers at the greater expense of the bulk of its citizens.  Subsidies make poorer most of the people of any country whose government uses subsidies.  So please explain why you believe that the U.S. government should condition its abolition of its harmful subsidies on other governments doing the same.

Suppose that you and your neighbor are each addicted to gambling, and every month you both irresponsibly lose a substantial chunk of your incomes in casinos.  One day a trusted friend comes to your door and credibly promises to help you break your addiction. Would you tell your friend “Thanks for the offer! But I’ll break my ruinous addiction to gambling only if and when my neighbor breaks his ruinous addiction. As long as my neighbor is impoverishing himself, I’ll show him by continuing to impoverish myself!”

It makes no more sense for the U.S. government to condition its abolition of subsidies on other governments abolishing their subsidies than for you to condition your breaking your self-destructive addiction on your neighbor breaking his self-destructive addiction.

Changing the subject, your organization is located in Fairfax, which is where I live.  I challenge you to a public debate.  Despite your organization’s name, you consistently support mercantilist policies that are deeply inconsistent with limited government.  So let’s pick a time and place for an open and civil debate.  The resolution will be “Unilateral free trade is economically and ethically superior to any policy in which government interferes with trade.”  I will defend this resolution while you will attempt to refute it.  Are you up for the challenge?

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

P.S. You may pick whomever you like to debate me (although ideally I’d like to debate you, given that you are obviously very confident in the rightness of your support for trade restrictions).  It can be you or someone else at your organization.  Or it can be someone else who you bring in solely to debate me.  I’ll debate, in defense of free trade, anyone who you offer to pit against me.

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