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DeMuth Stumbles

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:


Usually sure-footed, Christopher DeMuth stumbles into serious error when he writes, in apparent sympathy with today’s “national conservatives,” that “American conservatism became unduly attached to libertarian individualism, unfettered markets and free trade as ends in themselves – which helped set the stage for anything-goes cultural corruption, the decline of community, family and religion, and the rise of global corporations and institutions that decimated the American heartland” (“America’s Right Confronts the 21st Century,” November 19). Here are only two of his mistakes.

First, far from being unfettered, free markets teem with the time-tested and honest fetters of commercial competition. This competition regulates firm behavior far better than do government diktats or bureaucracies, which when these aren’t restricting firms from better serving consumers, are protecting firms from the commercial competition that alone keeps them efficient and responsive, not to government officials, but to consumers and suppliers.

Second, corruption – political and cultural – is fueled not by free trade, but by protectionism. Under a policy of free trade politicians and bureaucrats have no favors to sell to firms that crave relief from having to satisfy consumers. Firms thus compete for profits honestly rather than lobby for rents mendaciously. And because all protectionist pleas and policies must be sold to the public dishonestly, as patriotic and well-intentioned interventions rather than as what they really are – namely, privileges for the few at the larger expense of the many – protectionism contributes to cultural rot.

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