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An Open Letter to Daniel McCarthy

Here’s an open letter to Daniel McCarthy:

Mr. McCarthy:

Your attempted justification, at Law & Liberty, of industrial policy and protectionism carried out in the name of economic nationalism fails on many fronts. But worst of all, perhaps, is your slaying of the straw man “market liberal” who supports free trade.

This “market liberal,” you tell us, argues for free trade from “unhistorical abstractions” because he naively believes that the “market exists in a social vacuum” as it is left “pristine” and undistorted by governments abroad and at home.

Yet other than Samuel Gregg – whose superb article inspired your essay, and whom you concede is aware that Beijing distorts the Chinese economy – you name not a single such “market liberal.” Not one. Where is this ignorant and foolish pedant?

The answer is nowhere. He doesn’t exist. And to prove it I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.

Please join me in picking a panel of three judges: one chosen by you, one by me, and the third by the editor of Law & Liberty. I then challenge you to find in the works of scholars noted for strongly supporting a policy of free trade evidence of this mysterious and clueless “market liberal” about whom you write. You can submit evidence from as many works as you like – works on trade from scholars long ago such as Adam Smith, Frederic Bastiat, and William Graham Sumner, to more recent scholars such as Jagdish Bhagwati, Milton Friedman, Daniel Griswold, Daniel Ikenson, Douglas Irwin, Deirdre McCloskey, Arvind Panagariya, and Leland Yeager.

I will pay to you $100 for every passage that you find in such works, and that is agreed by two or more of the judges, to indeed reflect the belief of a serious advocate of free trade that markets exist in a social vacuum and that the case for free trade requires that markets be “pristine” and undistorted by state interference domestically and abroad.

My confidence that I’ll pay nothing is high. But if the judges do rule in your favor on any such passage, I will, after paying you, post that passage, along with its accompanying context, on my blog (Café Hayek) in order for the public to judge for itself if you truly did find evidence that your straw man is real.

Do we have a deal?

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