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I’ve Got a Beef with Protectionism

Here’s a letter to a reader of my column in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Mr. Al Wendryhoski

Mr. Wendryhoski:

You say that China’s agreement to buy more beef from America is “a big win for us.”  Well, these beef exports from the U.S. are mostly a win for the Chinese people.  From the perspective of us Americans, the beef that we export is a cost.  That beef is part of what we give up in exchange for whatever it is we’ll import with the earnings that we receive on the beef sales.  Our true benefit from this trade deal is chiefly in the additional Chinese chickens that we’ll now be allowed to import.  Yet that’s a benefit that we could have – and should have – enjoyed even without Beijing’s agreement to let the Chinese people enjoy greater access to American beef.

So while I applaud Beijing giving its people greater freedom to buy American beef, I remain appalled that Uncle Sam is willing to continue to restrict my and other Americans’ freedom to trade unless and until Beijing and other governments give their peoples more freedom to trade.

“I’ll free my people only if, and only so far as, you free your people” is a bargaining strategy wholly inconsistent with a free society. And this strategy is made no more palatable by the fact that it is rooted in a completely backward and bizarro notion of economics.

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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