No Dog in that Fight
Pro-Free Trade and Anti-WTO Is the Position Most Consistent with Liberty
FEBRUARY 01, 2000 by SHELDON RICHMAN
Filed Under : Free Trade
As satisfying as it was to see the World Trade Organization meeting reduced to dithering, no meticulous free trader could have taken sides in the confrontation last fall involving the WTO bureaucrats, the street mob, and the jackbooted Seattle police.
There were no “Free Traders Against the WTO” signs in sight. The free trade movement, such as it is, has missed the boat. The time to stake out a principled position was several years ago, when the WTO was first created. For most people now, pro-free trade and anti-WTO does not compute. Yet that is the position most consonant with liberty and property.
When the most prominent free traders endorsed creation of a bureaucracy that promised to support their abstract principles, they ignored lessons of political economy they routinely apply to most other areas of public policy. Public Choice teaches that bureaucrats face systemic incentives adverse to liberty. Applied to the case at hand, Public Choice would foresee that an international bureaucracy purportedly directed at diminishing government power over trade would sooner or later do the opposite. Too many free traders seem to believe that WTO bureaucrats and their political sponsors breathlessly await the next policy paper demonstrating that opening our market is good for us.
Predictably, the trade managers are concerned with things other than liberty and sound economics. The WTO is busy becoming the TWO—the Third Way Organization, an imperialistic National Labor Relations Board, Food and Drug Administration, and Environmental Protection Agency rolled into one. This, incidentally, is what most of the street mob wanted. (It is not what the people of the developing world want.)
Historically, the phrase free trade was not followed by the word but. That popular slogan—“I’m for free trade, but I’m for fair trade”—would have been doubletalk to Cobden, Bright, and Bastiat, who understood that government power denatures free trade, the concomitant of a foreign policy of nonintervention. Let’s hope that the American free-trade movement rediscovers its roots and resumes its quest for the unconditional elimination of all U.S. trade barriers.
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When it comes to disasters nature seems particularly unkind to the poor nations of the world. As Barun Mitra shows, this is neither vendetta nor coincidence.
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