The Moral Case For Free Trade

In the face of new-found protectionist posturing by American politicians, on both the right and the left, many economists have written articles laying out a strong case for free trade using hard data and various economic metrics. Good on them, as many of their arguments are hard, if not impossible to refute. The reality of trade increasing our standard of living, and the standard of living of cooperating nations isn’t really up for debate in economic circles.

But I feel this approach is lacking when it comes to convincing the public. People who have deep feelings about certain topics often won’t change their mind about it, even if proven wrong on the evidence. The data could be “flawed,” the author just hasn’t experienced what “I’ve gone through,” or they are “bought and paid” to lie about the situation.

So, no data, no charts, no graphs. Here is why you should be in favor of maximizing free trade between nations without having to trust any specifics I say:

For starters, contrary to what I just said (and as Jonah Goldberg and others have already pointed out), “countries,” or nations, do not trade with one another. Companies and individuals in countries trade with one another. There is no “negotiation” taking place between the U.S. government and the Mexican government over what plants, factories, products, or resources go where. A trade deal is simply a way of reducing barriers to transact, such as tariffs, between nations so that people and companies can exchange with one another freely, and do business in more places than before.

The result of said trade – relocation of plants, the sale of new products, the availability of more raw materials, and more, is mostly the result of unplanned market forces. If product A is cheaper to produce in a new place, and there are companies producing a substitute for product A in said place, perhaps the only way for the company producing A to survive is to move locations, otherwise they will be defeated in the marketplace.

This is exactly why certain plants relocate from state to state within the U.S. It’s often cheaper to produce a car in, say, Alabama, than it is in California. Should we outlaw said relocation? The workers in California are just as displaced by this as if the plant moved to Mexico. Sure, some may want to move with the plant, but the vast majority of those out of work won’t be able or willing to pick up and move right away.

Unemployment is a necessary part of economic growth, as crazy as that sounds. If everyone worked the same job nonstop their whole lives, no new products would be invented, and nothing would get done quicker and cheaper. It’s a good thing that horse breeding isn’t as big of a business as it once was. We get to have cars now. Should the government have stepped in and subsidized, or regulated the market in such a way to keep horse breeders afloat? No, the government should never interfere with creative destruction, or prevent efficiency improvement measures, such as relocation.

If you are interested in helping those who are displaced, the solution should be revitalizing education and training, creating a more flexible and dynamic labor market, and getting growth moving again so opportunities at least have a chance of appearing. The solution is not to slow our already over encumbered economy to a snail’s pace to “protect” the jobs that are being done today, because if they can eventually be replaced or relocated, they should be.

It is an immoral position to say your job deserves unique protection at the expense of everyone else’s well being. This costs people a higher standard of living – more products, better services, and the like, and there is no way to argue that.

It is also an immoral stance to say that I have no right to trade with those living overseas. If I want to pay Chinese or Indian or Mexican workers to produce something, why should I be stopped? Do opponents of free trade hold that Americans are so superior to others that transactions with non-Americans aren’t worth the time or effort, and must not be allowed? My right to exchange property with the man down my street and a man in Canada are equal. Preventing voluntary transactions on the basis of nationality is beyond immoral. In effect, this is an actual form of xenophobia, and not the false/exaggerated kind the left is always crowing about.

It’s my money, my time, my risk. Yes, I should be able to buy a foreign car, and it is wrong of you to say my only options should be American. If you are so confident in our industries, so patriotic, then why do Americans car companies need the crutch? Why can’t we produce something as good as Toyota?

Trade has become such an important aspect of our lives we don’t even notice it. There are millions of Trump supporters watching their man rip “trade” on a Sony or Toshiba television, while their children watch Pokemon or Dragon Ball Z, and play the latest Mario game. And this is all from just one country – Japan. Do you feel ripped off by the Japanese as Trump tells you you are? I don’t. I’ve gotten a lot from their products and culture, along with European nations, and many others.

Isolating ourselves won’t work. Trade barriers have never worked. But even if you won’t trust the arguments of seasoned economists, maybe you will feel bad about restricting others’ liberties for your short term gain. Drop the nonsense and let business owners and consumers do what they wish with their own property.

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