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Dangers Lurk in Timid Defenses of Free Trade

Most of the reasons offered for having only partially free trade, or for introducing free trade only gradually, implicitly if mistakenly grant the validity of protectionist arguments against free trade.

Here’s a letter to a Cafe Hayek patron:

Mr. Bruce Carter

Mr. Carter:

Thanks for your e-mail.

You’re correct that, while I’m willing to accept a partial freeing of trade if the only alternative is no freeing of trade, my ideal is complete freedom of trade.  Further, I reject the principle of using half-measures to achieve what I sincerely believe to be the wholly good outcome of complete free trade.

Henry George summarized well – in his 1886 book, Protection or Free Trade – the problem with advocating free trade timidly and with concessions to protectionism: “Such advocacy is not of the sort that can compel discussion, awaken thought, and press forward a great cause against political opposition.  Half a truth is not half so strong as a whole truth, and to minimize such a principle as that of free trade in the hope of disarming opposition, is to lessen its power of securing support in far greater degree than to lessen the antagonism it must encounter.  A principle that in its purity will be grasped by the popular mind loses its power when befogged by concessions and enervated by compromises.”*

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

* Henry George, Protection or Free Trade (New York: Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, 1991 [1886], pages 314-315.