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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 462 of Tom Palmer’s superb 1997 article “The Literature of Liberty,” as it is reprinted in Tom’s 2009 book, Realizing Freedom (link added):

In his Farewell Address, George Washington counseled, “the great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign Nations is in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible.” It is principally for this reason – the maintenance of peace and international harmony – that libertarians have favored freedom of trade, for in engaging in trade ties of amity and interest are established, and occasions for war avoided. As Washington maintained in the Farewell Address, “Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity and interest.”

DBx: Trade promotes material prosperity, it is true. It is also true that material prosperity is vital for human flourishing. (Only persons with ready and reliable access to a great deal of material prosperity have the luxury to denigrate material prosperity.)

But trade’s greatest benefit is that it promotes peace. It does so by uniting people in the shared norms, traditions, and subtle understandings that arise among those who are commercially connected. It does so also by creating mutual dependence – by creating interdependence – among those who are commercially united. As I first heard the point expressed by Tom Palmer many years ago, “It’s bad business to shoot your customers.” It’s bad business also, of course, to shoot your suppliers.

Therefore, what many protectionists see as being a bug in a policy of free trade – namely, dependence on foreigners to supply the home market with various goods, services, and inputs – the free-trader sees as a feature. (The protectionist, when expressing concern over the home-market’s dependence on foreigners typically forgets or fails to understand that the home-market dependence that he so fears is matched by the dependence of foreigners on home-market suppliers.) And this dependence would remain a feature if, contrary to fact, the free trade that promotes it does nothing to increase the material prosperity of the people in the home country.