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Defending a Policy of Unconditional Unilateral Free Trade

Here’s a letter to someone who accuses me of giving GMU Economics “a bad name”:

Mr. Crosby:

Thanks for your e-mail.

You write that I “diminish [my] credibility” by “dogmatically calling for free trade … in spite of the theoretical exceptions that economists have identified.”

With respect, I disagree. To identify theoretically coherent exceptions to any sound policy is child’s play. But to understand the relevance of these exceptions requires judgment and wisdom. Because any exception to a policy of free trade must necessarily be introduced and directed by government officials, I accept the judgment of many economists far wiser than myself that all such exceptions are practically irrelevant. These exceptions – which, among other unrealistic conditions, always require politicians to behave both apolitically and with superhuman knowledge – do not apply in reality.

Consider that I can construct a theoretically coherent exception to the policy of never giving switchblades and loaded AK-47s to toddlers – which is this: “Assume toddlers to be as mature and as physically able as adults, and that toddlers will use these weapons always skillfully and only to defend themselves, their siblings, and their parents against evil-doers. Voilà! I here prove theoretically that arming toddlers with dangerous weapons can, under some conditions, produce beneficial outcomes.

Are you impressed? And do you think me to be dogmatic and at risk of losing my credibility because, despite my coherent theory, I nevertheless recommend unconditionally a policy of never giving to toddlers switchblades and loaded AK-47s?

In my opinion, every textbook exception to a policy of unilateral free trade is built on assumptions just as preposterously unrealistic as are the ones that I use here to ‘prove’ an exception to the rule of unconditionally keeping toddlers unarmed.

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