Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on September 4, 2018

in Crony Capitalism, Philosophy of Freedom, Trade, Work

… is from page 153 of Stephen Meardon’s 2005 paper “How TRIPs Got Legs: Copyright, Trade Policy, and the Role of Government in Nineteenth-Century American Economic Thought,” as this paper is reprinted The Role of Government in the History of Economic Thought (Steven G. Medema and Peter Boettke, eds., 2005) (citation omitted):

To [William Cullen] Bryant, the unfairness of protection and the likelihood that it would “bring ruin” to a populace were reasons enough to renounce the policy. But one could say more. It was unfair and ruinous because it was contrary to the legitimate role of government. At its core the government’s role was to secure “free labor,” in all the term’s meanings. Specifically, a government functioning in its legitimate role would ensure the following: (1) that individuals could sell their labor for whatever wages an unencumbered market would allow; (2) that they could keep for themselves all of their wage earnings except those required to finance a small and stripped-down government; and (3) that with those earnings they could purchase goods for the best price an unencumbered market would offer. Free labor therefore demanded, to the minds of Bryant and his readers, a consistent stand on three of the day’s most controversial issues. For individuals to be able to sell their labor freely demanded opposition to slavery. For individuals to be as free as possible from taxation demanded not only a minimalist government, but, in particular, a government averse to the financing of internal improvements (contra Henry Clay) and the resulting spoils of patronage. And for individuals to be able to trade their wages for goods at the best price they could get demanded free trade. When Bryant pressed in 1843 for “commercial emancipation” from “the practice of confining trade by the invisible, but potent chains of the law,” therefore, his language was not just metaphorical. He considered restrictions on international trade to be a violation of the principle of free labor – and, in the same manner as slavery, a contravention of the legitimate role of government.

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