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Free Trade Is Not Remotely Elitist

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In my latest column for AIER, I do my best to debunk the claim that a policy of free trade is elitist [2]. A slice:

Even the former staunch free trader Paul Krugman now complains [3] that the full-throated case for free trade is an elitist “scam.”

Nonsense.

A policy of free trade is nothing more than a policy under which ordinary people are left unmolested to spend their incomes in whatever peaceful ways they choose. It’s a policy of government not penalizing or prohibiting commercial exchanges merely because the counterparties to those exchanges happen to live abroad. Free trade is a policy of not forcing fellow citizens – whether they be ‘elites’ or the most humble – to pay for special privileges granted to powerful interest groups.

Under a policy of free trade, all producers must earn their livings honestly – that is, by supplying genuine value to consumers as consumers judge that value and not according to what that value is asserted to be by producers themselves, or by their cronies in government. Under a policy of free trade government does not deny any of its citizens, either as consumers or as producers, the opportunity to get the most for their money in voluntary exchange with others – nor, however, does government artificially inflate the incomes of the politically potent by forcibly transferring income away from the politically impotent.

Free trade is a policy of simply leaving people alone. Free trade is not imposed; free trade is the absence of government impositions. Those who argue that free trade is imposed imply that when Jones, after taking Smith hostage, eventually releases Smith from captivity, that Jones thereby imposes freedom on Smith. But of course Jones does no such thing. Likewise, a government that removes obstructions that it once imposed on its citizens’ freedom to enter into commercial exchanges does not impose freedom on its citizens; it restores its citizens’ rightful freedom. It returns to them what is rightfully theirs – what should never in the first place have been taken from them.