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Debate at Hillsdale on Trade

On Tuesday at Hillsdale College I’ll debate Ian Fletcher on free trade versus protectionism.  Our debate will span two different sessions, and they are part of a larger program taking place now at Hillsdale.  Obviously, I’ll support the pro-free-trade argument.  Nearby is a screenshot of an announcement of the event that just arrived in my e-mailbox.  (And here’s the link that you see pictured there.)

While I know that many of the fine people at Hillsdale, and many of their truly marvelous supporters, are more conservative than I am (and, hence, less libertarian than I am), I’m somewhat surprised to read in this announcement that trade is “an issue regarding which libertarian principles might conflict with the national interest.”

It’s true that restrictions on trade are inconsistent with libertarian principles, but it’s incorrect to suggest that free trade is a uniquely libertarian position.  Supporters of free trade have throughout history included many non-libertarians.

Consider, for example today’s Quotation of the Day.  It’s by Winston Churchill, who cannot possibly be accurately described as a libertarian.  Yet Churchill was a free-trader.  (It’s interesting to note here that Hillsdale’s president, Larry Arnn, makes no secret of his admiration for Churchill.)

The economic and ethical case for free trade is so powerful that it has, throughout history, won the support of large numbers of people who think logically, who are willing to look at that which is beyond the obvious, and who share a commitment to the values of a free, open, and commercial society.  Libertarians are indeed among this group, but they hardly exhaust its ranks.