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Steve Moore Is No Free Trader

Here’s a letter to The Hill

Stephen Moore spends the final 722 words of his May 12th op-ed (“Why free traders and all Americans should back Trump on China policy”) disproving the first four words, which are “I’m a free trader.”

Unlike Mr. Moore, every true free trader understands that other governments’ punitive taxation of their citizens’ purchases of imports is no good justification – either economically or ethically – of his government’s punitive taxation of its citizens’ purchases of imports.

Unlike Mr. Moore, every true free trader understands that differentially higher tariffs imposed by other governments tilt the playing field not in favor of the higher-tariff countries but against them.

Unlike Mr. Moore, every true free trader understands that trade is by nature a two-way street and, therefore, requires no government intervention to ensure that it is so.

Finally, unlike Mr. Moore, every true free trader would be deeply ashamed of himself if he discovered that he ever attempted to rationalize his country’s trade restrictions by writing the following: “China is an export-based economy that has been nurtured on near-unfettered access to America’s multitrillion-dollar consumer market.” The reason every true free trader would wince in painful embarrassment at having written these words is that every true free trader understands two economic realities that elude Mr. Moore.

First, exporting, as such, no more enriches a country than does vandalism or arson. Exporting enriches a country only insofar as the people of that country receive imports in return for their exports. Unlike Mr. Moore, every true free trader understands that exports lead to growth only if and to the extent that exports bring in more imports.

Second, to the extent that China has grown economically as a result of its exports, it has promoted the economic growth of each of its trading partners. After all, China’s increased exports means that citizens of other countries have access to a greater abundance of goods and services. No country can economically grow by exporting without thereby making economic growth easier for other countries.

In summary, Mr. Moore is no free trader because clearly he understands nothing of the economics of the case for a policy of free 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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