Here’s a letter to a reader of Cafe Hayek:
Mr. Josh Henderson
Thanks for your e-mail. You ask which government – the U.S. or the Chinese – I believe to be most responsible for today’s trade tensions.
My answer is both. Both governments obstruct with tariffs and subsidies their citizens’ freedom to trade peacefully with people outside of their countries. Without these obstructions, each resident of America would be free to peacefully accept or to reject offers made to him by individuals in China, and each resident of China would be free to peacefully accept or to reject offers made to her by individuals in America. Without these obstructions there would be no more trade tension between Americans and the Chinese than there is now between Minnesotans and Floridians.
Skeptics balk. They insist that Beijing’s obstructions of its citizens’ freedom to trade require that Uncle Sam similarly obstruct Americans’ freedom to trade.
These skeptics miss the crucial fact that the fundamental and chief tensions created in this case by Beijing are among only the people of China. Beijing’s tariffs and subsidies, in effect, seize the property of some Chinese citizens in order to transfer it to other Chinese citizens. But because these Beijing-engineered seizures take from no American anything to which an American has a property right, what ethical justification is there for Uncle Sam to create identical tensions in the U.S. by seizing the property of some Americans in order to transfer it to other Americans?
In what moral universe does A’s forcible transfer of B’s property to C justify X’s forcible transfer of Y’s property to Z? How is justice served if, in response to A’s wrongful creation of tensions between B and C, X creates like tensions between Y and Z?
Although Beijing certainly does enable some Chinese individuals to prey upon other Chinese individuals, this reality does not make right that which is wrong – namely, Uncle Sam enabling some Americans to prey upon other Americans.
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