The opposition to free trade comes from the same two sources as the opposition to economic freedom in general: ignorance of economics; or the belief that individuals in some group should grab more (more money or other benefits of life) by coercively imposing costs to individuals in other groups.
As the number of checkpoints and searches between point A and point B approaches infinity, the probability that a terrorist or common criminal will pass through the net approaches zero. But, at the same time, the probability that a government agent will commit a crime approaches one.
Perhaps one can define “the will of the people” as 51% or 48% of a vote, or 35% of the electors, but it is only a definition. Or else it is the conclusion of a demanding contractarian theory.
“The interest of the dealers, however, in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public. To widen the market and to narrow the competition, is always the interest of the dealers. To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens. The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”
— Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776).
James Mill (1773–1836) was a Scottish economist, philosopher, and journalist. He was the father of an even more famous figure of the 19th century, economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill. Like other classical economists, James was a defender of free trade. His 1808 pamphlet Commerce Defended answers many of today’s arguments for protectionism.
Adam Smith’s famous book The Wealth of Nations (1776) developed economic and moral arguments against “the mercantile system” or protectionism. The relevant chapters are among the best of the book and there is much to be learned from them.
In a couple of weekend tweets, Donald Trump warned American companies against shipping goods to America from foreign countries: “Please be forewarned prior to making a very expensive mistake!” “THE UNITED STATES,” he added in bold letters and with his usual inconsistency, “IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS.” “Open for business” apparently means that the government is open to meddling with businesses.
One can exaggerate the degree of liberty in America before the 20th-century sprint of interventionism. (I have sinned myself.) One form of widespread government intervention in 19th-century America was protectionism –- the imposition of customs tariffs to limit imports. In his 1914 The Tariff History of the United States, F. W. Taussig follows the evolution of American protectionism from the early Republic, and especially the first really protectionist tariff act in 1808, up to 1913.
There is something funny about the establishment’s dismay at Donald Trump’s election victory. It is not so much the disruption of their suspicious comfort and contentment. We still don’t know how disrupted they will be, because we don’t know what Mr. Trump’s policies will be. Judging from the financial markets’ salivating at new stimulus expenditures, they may not be disrupted much. Continue reading
In Steven Spielberg’s movie “The Minority Report” (with Tom Cruise) and in the original 1956 science-fiction novel by Philip K. Dick, mutants called “precogs” can predict future crimes – “precrimes” – so that their authors can be arrested in advance. “In our society,” says the head of the precrime police, “we have no major crimes. But we have a detention camp full of would-be criminals.”
This is not only science fiction. Continue reading