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Free Trade Is A Moral Imperative

Here’s a letter to an infrequent correspondent:

Mr. B__:

I’d not have known about the new essay by Dean Baker if you hadn’t sent it to me. So thanks for that.

You believe Baker’s essay to offer “a strong challenge to free market fundamentalism.” I, in contrast, find it to be a dull rehash of several progressive nostrums.

A few of his points are credible, such as the call to reform intellectual-property rules. But too many are wrongheaded. He’s especially confused about trade, as when he complains that “we expose manufacturing workers to direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world.” This way of putting the matter wrongly presumes both that government has a moral right to determine who we Americans do and don’t engage with in peaceful commerce, and that the default position is that we Americans should be prohibited from dealing with foreigners until, unless, and only insofar as our government grants us permission to do so.

These presumptions are unfit for a free society. As a free people, each of us has the right to spend our incomes in whatever peaceful ways we choose, including on goods offered for sale by foreigners. Government doesn’t “expose” any producers to competition from other producers; such exposure is the natural and healthy condition of a market economy. Any individual who wants to reap the rich fruits of participating in a market economy must play by the rules that govern this economy. And no rule is more critical to a market economy than that consumers’ incomes belong to consumers and not to producers, and so producers must compete against whoever consumers might choose to patronize.

Like all protectionists, Baker believes that consumers are vassals of producers, and he complains when government frees consumers from this vassalage. His philosophy is antagonistic to a free people.

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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