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Giving Commerce its Doux

In my most-recent column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, I offer what I believe to be legitimate reasons to question the claim that the U.S. government leaving Americans free to trade with the Chinese people supports the beasts in Beijing and their tyranny. A slice:

Precisely because free trade and free markets enrich ordinary people in China, these people gain greater stakes in keeping China’s trade and markets free. The Chinese people come to rely more on the commercial ties that trade builds to connect them with businesses and consumers in liberal democracies.

Indeed, because these ties are ultimately a lucrative source of tax revenue for Beijing, the Chinese government itself becomes more dependent upon these commercial ties built by free trade — and, thus, more reluctant to tear these ties away.

These ties extend beyond the narrowly economic. Successful trade requires not only peaceful exchange between trading parties, it requires also that all parties come to better understand and to empathize with each other. Most notably, suppliers’ prospects for profit rise the greater and more detailed is their awareness of — and their eagerness to satisfy — their customers’ desires. Importantly, the parties also must literally be able and willing to communicate with each other in a common language.

The result is that trading parties from less free societies gain a greater awareness of, and appreciation for, the norms and ethics of trading parties from more free societies.

If we are confident, as we should be, that our western liberal norms are superior to authoritarian ones, the greater the exposure of the Chinese people to our norms the greater is the likelihood that they will successfully resist the tyranny of their state. This happy outcome isn’t guaranteed, of course, but its possibility should receive more attention in discussions of U.S.-China trade.