All Commentary
Monday, June 1, 1959

Free Enterprise and European Unity

Mr. Winder is a British farmer, author, and journalist.

Owing to the economic disunity of the national states of Western Europe, that semicontinent—al­though probably in natural re­sources as rich as the United States—has much less economic strength, and a standard of liv­ing infinitely lower.

Many Americans believe that the interference of their federal government with trade is detri­mental to the national economy. How much more would they feel this if each of the fifty state gov­ernments controlled their people’s trading activities?

The unhappy position of Europe is to have all its governments in­terfering with trade; and, if we are to judge by results rather than by the sentiments expressed, every act of interference divides the economy of Europe still further and makes all Europeans poorer.

What is to be blamed for this? What is to be blamed for Europe‘s failure to unite her economy in face of the threat of Russia and of communism? Why, particular­ly, is her economy more divided, and her trade barriers more insur­mountable, than they were fifty years ago? Do Europeans, then, hate each other more than they did? Have two wars taught them nothing?

No. The answer cannot be found in the fact of political nationalism. European people have never been more friendly with one another than they are today. The increase of economic disunity over the last fifty years has not been deliber­ately and even consciously brought about. It is purely the result of internal policies which were pur­sued with foreign countries only incidentally in mind.

The increase in the economic disunity of Europe has been caused solely by the increasing de­parture of European governments from the principles of free enter­prise. Free enterprise has a unify­ing effect on the world’s economy, whereas state economic planning—which, in a democracy, must necessarily be nothing more than that evil which our fathers called “government interference” in eco­nomic affairs—has a distinctly disintegrating effect.

To unite Europe in wealth and strength, it is not the sovereignty of many states which has to be destroyed, but the fatal belief of her peoples in state economic plan­ning. If such planning were only renounced by European govern­ments, so that their peoples were left free to trade with one another as they wished, then the difficul­ties which arise from the present economic disunity would be re­solved.

Unity is not brought about by laws to control trade but by the absence of such laws. The constitu­tion of the State of Alabama con­tains the following words: “The sole and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citi­zen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions, it is usurpation and op­pression.”

If the governments of Europe would only accept this philosophy for at least as far as it affects trade, then the economic unity of Europe would be achieved, and the cloud now lowering over Europe from the East would dis­solve.

The Common Market

A few of Europe’s more distin­guished politicians now realize the dangers of her present economic division and try to remedy this, but with little success. The most notable of these attempts is, of course, the proposed common mar­ket to be set up by Belgium, Hol­land, Luxemburg, Italy, Germany, and France. Although this has now been agreed upon, and the slow reduction of tariffs and quotas between those six countries has begun, the difficulties which lie ahead are very great. Each country has protected interests which she is afraid will be de­stroyed by the flood of goods from the other five. Our fathers, with their belief in free enterprise, knew that such floods spelled wealth, but today in Europe the fear of such wealth is difficult to overcome.

The tariffs between the six na­tions are to be removed very slow­ly, and, meantime, new barriers against the rest of Europe and the world in general are to be erected around their proposed common market. In the case of BelgiumHolland, this means that the tariff barriers will be higher than ever before. Nobody can be sure, as a result of these arrangements, whether the total trade of Europe will be increased or decreased. and

Great Britain and some of the other European countries have tried to form what is described as a free trade area in association with the six common market coun­tries, but in the end, the opposi­tion of British farmers and French industrialists was too great. To the sectional interests of a few farmers and industrialists, the security of the whole of Europe is to be sacrificed.

One Nation Could Start

The ironical truth is that it would be possible, and economi­cally profitable, for any one Euro­pean nation to abandon the planned economy, and abolish the barriers to the trade of her people, quite irrespective of the actions taken by her neighbors. Trade is nothing but an exchange of goods, and if we admit—as most people do—that trade is beneficial, then a na­tion is injured by anything that prevents that trade.

High mountains, tempestuous seas, and unnavigable rivers are as much barriers to trade as quotas or customs tariffs. The St. Lawrence River is sometimes frozen over and becomes a bar­rier to the Canadian’s trade with the people of Great Britain. What would we think of a politician who argued that, because of this, the British Parliament should pass a law barring Canadian shipping from the Thames for a similar period so as to prevent Britons trading with Canadians?

Yet this would be no more foolish than the argument that, because the government of one country puts up a tariff barrier to prevent our merchants trading with hers, we should retaliate with a barrier preventing her mer­chants trading with ours.

Great Britain should know this better than any other country be­cause, at one time, she was the only free trade country of any size in the world, while, at the same time, she was the greatest and wealthiest power in existence.

If but one European nation would adopt the system of free enterprise and grant her people the right to trade freely both at home and abroad, her economy would be so stimulated that she would become an example for other nations to follow. In this way only will the economic unity of Europe be achieved.

Socialist Dilemma

The prevalence of socialist theory among all classes through­out Europe, however, makes this one road to unity very difficult to traverse. Socialists are de­termined to plan the economy in which they live, and, as national planners have jurisdiction only in their own country, this has a tendency to divide Europe into small, tight, hidebound economies more resistant to trade than ever. Socialists profess a belief in peace and unity; but when they try to plan internationally, their na­tional planning makes cooperation virtually impossible. To plan the economy of Europe by a central authority, it would first be neces­sary to destroy all national plans as well as the sovereignty of every country involved.

Socialists may be willing to go to any length to unite Europe by government action, but they will do nothing to achieve unity in the only way it can be achieved—by government inaction.

The economic unity of Europe will not be brought about by any assembly of politicians or by in­ternational conferences, or by trade agreements entered into by governments, or by loans and gifts from America. It will be brought about only when the people of Europe accept the immutable truth that man is endowed by Providence with certain inalien­able rights, and that among these is the right to produce and trade freely with whomsoever he wishes.

Once this truth is accepted—once governments repeal their laws against trade—Western Europe will become as prosperous and as strong and united as America, and the cloud of com­munism gathering over her Eastern border and threatening the existence of her civilization will be dissolved forever.

Europe will be united in free­dom, or not at all. We have forgot­ten the power and the magic which lives in freedom.


Ideas on Liberty

The Moral Foundations of Freedom

Edmund Burke

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon the will and appetite is placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be of it without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of in­temperate habits cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.