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Rival Gang Violence Against Peaceful Traders

Here’s a follow-up letter to Larry Clark:

Mr. Clark:

Thanks for your response to my earlier letter.

You’re correct to note that there’s a genuine difference between the case of our neighbors abroad being forcibly obstructed by their governments from trading with us, and our neighbors next door voluntarily choosing not to trade with us. But you leap too hastily to the conclusion that, therefore, Uncle Sam’s trade restrictions on Americans’ trade are justified by foreign-governments’ restrictions on their citizens’ trade.

To treat foreign-governments’ trade restrictions as illegitimate is to assume that foreign governments do not carry out the will of their citizens. This assumption is surely valid. But given this fact, we cannot then, with any legitimacy, casually assume that the U.S.  government carries out the will of the American people. I thus see no good reason to excuse Uncle Sam’s use of force to prevent us Americans from trading as we choose just because other governments use force to prevent non-Americans from trading as they choose.

We both agree that evil and economic harm would be unleashed if a violent gang were to take over our next-door neighbor’s home and obstructed our neighbors’ trade with us. But would our welfare improve if, in response, a rival gang took over our home and obstructed whatever trades each of us chooses to make with our next-door neighbors?

Unless you can honestly answer ‘yes’ to this question, you must at least concede that foreign-governments’ obstructions of their citizens’ trade are not an ipso facto justification for Uncle Sam’s obstructions of our trade.

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


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