Free Trade versus Protectionism

Protection or Free Trade, An Examination of the Tariff Question, with especial Regard to the Interests of Free Trade
by Henry George
"George was not just an advocate of the single tax on the unimproved value of land, but also a strong defender of free trade, as this work demonstrates."

Free Trade

Essay on the Nature of Trade in General
by Richard Cantillon
"Essai sur la Nature du Commerce en General, edited with an English translation and other material by Henry Higgs."

Fettered Free Trade
June 27, 2009
by Michael Beitler
"By definition, we only trade with somebody when we both profit. If I don't profit from the proposed trade, I walk away. If my potential trading partner doesn't profit, he or she walks away. If we both profit, we are delighted with each other and hope to trade with each other again soon. Free trade promotes positive relationships between individuals and nations."

Free Trade
by Dr. Mary Ruwart
The good doctor answers tough questions about free trade.

Free Trade
by Ludwig von Mises
"The theoretical demonstration of the consequences of the protective tariff and of free trade is the keystone of classical economics. It is so clear, so obvious, so indisputable, that its opponents were unable to advance any arguments against it that could not be immediately refuted as completely mistaken and absurd."

Free Trade and Flexible Markets
April 2000
by Christopher Mayer
"Flexibility means change and, for some people, a sense of uneasiness. It means that we are not likely to stay in one job for 20 years and that we will have to upgrade our job skills continuously. However, change is inherent in the real world. The societies that have the most flexible economies are equipped to handle their changing needs. They will grow, prosper, and change, while those anchored by political chains or societal bonds will go through periods of struggle and suffering."

The Humanity of Trade
by Frank Chodorov
"Living without trade may be possible, but it would hardly be living; at best it would be mere existence. Until the marketplace appears, men are reduced to getting by with what they can find in nature in the way of food and raiment; nothing more. But the will to live is not merely a craving for existence; it is rather an urge to reach out in all directions for a fuller enjoyment of life, and it is by trade that this inner drive achieves some measure of fulfillment. The greater the volume and fluidity of marketplace transactions the higher the wage level of Society; and, insofar as things and services make for happiness, the higher the wage level the greater the fund of happiness."

On the Repeal of the Corn Laws
February 8, 1844
by Richard Cobden
"With free trade in corn, so far from throwing land out of use or injuring the cultivation of the poorer soils, free trade in corn is the very way to increase the production at home, and stimulate the cultivation of the poorer soils by compelling the application of more capital and labor to them."

A Powerful Case for Free Trade
by Henry George
"While Adam Smith presented the best-known practical case for free trade, the most powerful rhetorical case came from Henry George in his book Protection or Free Trade (1886). Here are some of the most memorable passages."

Speeches on Free Trade
by Richard Cobden
"A collection of 25 of Cobden’s speeches on free trade given between 1841-1853. It was a cheap reprint from the larger two volume collection of his speeches and was part of Macmillan’s Sixpenny Series of cheap books."

We Need Free Trade In Deed As Well As Word
January 1994
by Gary M. Galles
"Much of the economic success of the early United States was due to the fact that the Constitution not only restricted the federal government’s ability to hurt some citizens for the benefit of others (e.g., the takings, tax uniformity, due process, and equal protection clauses), but also abolished states’ attempts to take advantage of each other through restrictions on interstate commerce (the famous commerce clause). The result was the world’s largest free trade zone. Everyone benefited, as neither the state nor federal government could impose extra burdens on mutually beneficial trades just because shipments originated across a state border."

What Is Free Trade?
by Frédérick Bastiat
In order to rob the public, it must be deceived. To deceive it, is to persuade it that it is robbed for its own advantage; it is to make it accept fictitious services, and often worse, in exchange for its property."

What is free trade?
by William Graham Sumner
"We never should have heard of free trade, if no restrictions had ever been put on trade. If there had been any restrictions on the intercourse between the states of this Union, we should have heard of ceaseless agitation to get those restrictions removed. Since there are no restrictions allowed under the Constitution, we do not realize the fact that we are enjoying the blessings of complete liberty, where, if wise counsels had not prevailed at a critical moment, we should now have had a great mass of traditional and deep-rooted interferences to encounter."

Economic Growth

Economic Growth and Freedom in the Coming Millennium
April 2000
by Christopher Lingle
"What has been learned is that globalization has been the most effective liberalizing process in the history of mankind. Such a claim might cause Karl Marx to roll over in his grave and induce apoplexy in his diehard disciples. But history speaks for itself. International capital flows and greater trade integration over the past three decades have lifted nearly half a billion people out of poverty, mostly in Asia."


Peace, Free Trade and the Role of Ideas in the Preservation of Freedom
September 15, 2003
by Kevin Page
"Unless America comes to realize that freedom and prosperity are the fruits of a well-developed tree, fertilized by ideas that promote free trade and replenished by a peaceful respect for the individual rights of mankind, her mark on history is destined to be the same as Camelot’s: “one brief shining moment.” The only difference—applause won’t be heard after the curtain has fallen."

Pro-Smuggling: Because I Have a Brain
by Cristina C. Espina
"All it takes to convince one of the rightness of smuggling is coming face to face with the wrongness of the legal alternative."

Trade and the Rise of Freedom
June 2000
by Thomas J. DiLorenzo
"Trade involves the exchange of property titles. Restrictions on free trade are therefore an attack on private property itself and not “merely” a matter of “trade policy.” This is why such great classical liberals as Frederic Bastiat spent many years of their lives defending free trade. Bastiat, as much as anyone, understood that once one acquiesced in protectionism, no one’s property was safe from myriad other governmental acts of theft. To Bastiat, protectionism and communism were essentially the same philosophy."


Globalization and Labor Markets
by Prof. Jan Narveson
"In this essay, I'll start by sketching the Standard Case, as we might call it, for free trade. We will then turn to labor issues in particular, and especially to the claim that there is some kind of serious injustice involved in globalization."


Cobden on Freedom, Peace, and Trade
August 20, 2010
by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
"Cobden's skepticism of the pretensions of the state, which would doubtless have made him a skeptic of the kind of foreign aid programs that have been pursued since World War II, helps to account for his aversion to military interventionism as well."

Free Trade: Key to Peace and Prosperity
January 2004
by William H. Peterson
"For the nice fact is that no seller goes around shooting, bombing, or terrorizing his customers. IBM caught this implication in its old motto, “World Peace Through World Trade.” Or as the Old Testament caught it: 'They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks.'”

Free Trade: The Necessary Foundation for World Peace edited by Joan Kennedy Taylor
reviewed by Roy A. Childs, Jr.
March 1986
"This book is a call for us to step back from the brink of economic nationalism and trade wars to consider what we are doing. It is concerned simultaneously with principles and reality. And its authors focus clearly on some of the great issues of our time: world hunger, foreign aid, international investment, unemployment and international conflict are all seen through the eyes of principles that enable us to understand what is happening to our world. In doing that, it makes a bold case for the re-examination of the ideals we have so thoughtlessly abandoned: individual rights, private property, economic freedom, limited government and free trade. In the nineteenth century these ideals helped promote peace; in the twenty-first, perhaps they can do so again."

Free Trade vs. National Security: Is There Really a Contradiction?
by Ivan Eland
"The Bush administration’s refusal to look at the big picture and realize that free commerce is also the best national security policy is puzzling and troubling. The administration has realized the danger to the world of nuclear war in South Asia and has supported the Indo-Pakistani peace process. Simultaneously, however, it is also trying to block the peace pipeline, which would foster economic cooperation between the two bitter adversaries, in order to carry out a petty vendetta against an Iranian regime that poses only a limited threat to U.S. security. Clearer thinking about U.S. security is needed."

Individual Freedom, International Trade, and International Conflict: Cobden Was Right
September 15, 2003
by Alex Robson
"The proposition that international trade in goods and services, factors of production, ideas and cultures can increase mutual dependencies, reduce the possibility of international conflict (by making it more costly), and allow individual freedom to flourish can be found in the writings of Emeric Cruce, Francois Quesnay, David Hume, Adam Smith, de Montesquieu, John Bright and, more recently, Ludwig von Mises. The English statesman Richard Cobden, a principal architect behind the removal of Britain’s Corn Laws in the mid-19th century, was also a powerful advocate of this idea. This paper applies the insights of Austrian economists such as Hayek and von Mises to international affairs and international rules of conduct, and argues that Cobden’s intuitive arguments regarding foreign affairs, trade, and the progress of individual freedom were accurate. We then briefly examine the most recent theoretical and empirical work by economists and political scientists on the link between international trade and conflict. Most of the formal theoretical work and empirical studies support Cobden’s position."


Financial market liberalization in Japan
"Eventually, the Japanese parliament decided that such rigid protectionism was no longer sustainable; so it moved to allow foreign companies to provide expert advice and management to pension funds. The entry of new players forces domestic incumbents to improve their efficiency and skills. Meanwhile, pension fund members prosper from enhanced returns and more efficient fund management."

Globalization, Trade and the Poor
by Fred McMahon
"Anti-globalists would do well to remember that nations that were once poor, but opened their borders to trade and adopted market reform, have emerged from poverty."

The Humanity of Trade
by Frank Chodorov
"The myth of "protectionism" rests on the notion that the be-all and end-all of human life is laboring, not consumption-and certainly not leisure. If that were so, then the slaves who built pyramids were most ideally situated; they worked much and received little. Likewise, the Russians chained to "five year plans" have achieved heaven on earth, and so did the workers who, during the depression, were put to moving dirt from one side of the road to the other. . . .
Yet, if we base our thinking on the natural urge of the individual to better his circumstances and widen his horizon, operating always under the natural law of parsimony (the most for the least effort), we are compelled to the conclusion that effort which does not add to the abundance of the market place is useless effort. Society thrives on trade simply because trade makes specialization possible, specialization increases output, and increased output reduces the cost in toil for the satisfactions men live by. That being so, the market place is a most humane institution.

A Libertarian-style foreign policy: Why free trade equals prosperity
by Michael Tanner
Trade restrictions on foreign products lower the standard of living for American consumers by about $752 per household per year.

Protectionism and the Destruction of Prosperity
by Murray N. Rothbard
"In the host of special interests using the political process to repress and loot the rest of us, the protectionists are among the most venerable. It is high time that we get them, once and for all, off our backs, and treat them with the righteous indignation they so richly deserve."

What Free Trade Really Means
September 1995
by Jeffrey Herbener
"American prosperity depends on enacting a policy of free trade at home and abroad. Just as the states are forbidden to manage interstate commerce, the national government should be forbidden to manage international commerce. Then the advantages of the division of labor could be extended to Pennsylvanians and Virginians not just between themselves, but with Germans and Japanese as well."


The "Anti-globalist" Immorality
October 2003
by Enrico Colombatto

Entrepreneurs Under Attack
How protectionist laws stifle competition and cripple economic liberty

September 9, 2010
by John Stossel
"Every locality has its share of business moguls who are cozy with politicians. Together, they use the power of government to keep competition down and prices high."

EU Trade Barriers Kill
August 2003
by Stephen Pollard, Alberto Mingardi, Cécile Philippe, and Sean Gabb
"A person dies every 13 seconds - usually in Africa - as a result of European trade legislation. The study, which analyses the impact of EU trade regulations, holds EU's protectionist policies culpable for perpetuating poverty in several African nations."

The Fear of Free Trade
December 2007
by Mark W. Hendrickson
"Protectionists aren’t interested in what they consider abstract intellectual notions. Their opposition to free trade is visceral and passionate. They are driven by two fears: that without government protection (tariffs, quotas, and the like) against unfair foreign competition, they may lose their jobs—their livelihood—and also that the country as a whole will go down the tubes."

Freedom to Trade: Refuting the New Protectionism edited by Edward L. Hudgins
reviewed by Charles K. Rowley
September 1999
"Free trade against protectionism is one of those few issues over which economists have reached consensus. Free trade attracts the vote of the very large majority of economists, whereas protectionism typically attracts the support only of those who are paid mouthpieces for the special interests."

Free Trade to Benefit the Many - Not Fair Trade to Benefit the Few
October 1997
by Dwight R. Lee
"If politicians could feel the gain of the unorganized many as intensely as they feel the pain of the organized few, a large number of government restrictions on our economic choices would be quickly eliminated. Restrictions on our ability to buy the best products at the lowest prices, whether produced at home or abroad, would be among the first to go."

A Petition
by Frédéric Bastiat
"This is the famous text through which Bastiat, with a ferocious sarcasm, exposes to ridicule the protectionist State and all those who are in favour of protectionism." - John Zube

Presumptuous Protectionism
December 2005
by Manuel F. Ayau
"What may be legally bought and sold in the market is limited to legitimate private property acquired by ones own effort or through voluntary exchange with others. Since legal transactions are settled accounts, what is traded belongs to neither the government nor the community. It is private property, and as such the owner can dispose of it at his sole discretion, limited only by other peoples rights. Correct?"

Protectionism and Morality
by Robert W. McGee
While utilitarian approaches to trade have some value, and while utilitarian arguments often --and rightly -- conclude that free and unrestricted trade is the best policy, they do so for the wrong reason. This article points out that the real reason why totally free and unrestricted trade is good is because it is the only trade policy that does not violate individual rights.

Protectionism and the Destruction of Prosperity
by Murray N. Rothbard
"As we unravel the tangled web of protectionist argument, we should keep our eye on two essential points: (1) protectionism means force in restraint of trade; and (2) the key is what happens to the consumer. Invariably, we will find that the protectionists are out to cripple, exploit, and impose severe losses not only on foreign consumers but especially on Americans. And since each and every one of us is a consumer, this means that protectionism is out to mulct all of us for the benefit of a specially privileged, subsidized few – and an inefficient few at that: people who cannot make it in a free and unhampered market."

Protectionism, Old and New
August 1995
by Hans F. Sennholz
"Protectionism makes for strange bedfellows. It brings together big business and big labor, politicians counting votes and government officials yearning for power, sixteenth-century thinkers and twentieth-century economists. It unites many petitioners for political favors and largess in a common cause against consumers and foreigners."

PROTECTIONISM the -ism which teaches that waste makes wealth
by William Graham Sumner
"Protectionism seems to me to deserve only contempt and scorn, satire and ridicule. It is such an arrant piece of economic quackery, and it masquerades under such an affectation of learning and philosophy, that it ought to be treated as other quackeries are treated. Still, out of deference to its strength in the traditions and lack of information of many people, I have here undertaken a patient and serious exposition of it."

Protection or Free Trade
by Henry George
A strong defense of free trade.

Robot Protectionism
April 1983
by Ernest G. Ross
"In essence, then, the fear that robots are anti-employment is an extremely short-range, irrational fear, a descent into Ludditism. Robots are a part of a man’s technological nature and his future. One cannot rationally object to their entrance into the marketplace without simultaneously demanding that man deny the kind of being that he is."

Self-Sufficiency the Route to Poverty
July 16, 2003
by John C. Downen
"The anti-globalization crowd would have us keep our jobs to ourselves and deny employment and export opportunities for poor people in developing countries. Neither would they let us buy foreign goods because that takes jobs from people at home. Such narrow-minded isolationism is mean in its consequences."

Smashing Protectionist "Theory" (Again)
by Murray N. Rothbard
"In the host of special interests using the political process to repress and loot the rest of us, the protectionists are among the most venerable. It is high time that we get them, once and for all, off our backs, and treat them with the righteous indignation they so richly deserve."

A Trade Policy for Free Societies: The Case Against Protectionism by Robert W. McGee
reviewed by Joseph T. Salerno
December 1995
"There are a few minor flaws in the book. For example, McGee's novel accounting analysis of the trade deficit, presented in chapter 2, is not well grounded in economic theory: it attempts to quantify and interpersonally aggregate the gains from trade and conceives these gains as dependent on the gross profit rates of the participating firms, which are arbitrarily assumed to be equal. Without this unrealistic assumption, similar hypothetical arithmetic examples could easily be constructed that purport to prove that “trade deficits are bad” for the United States. Overall, however, this book is well worth a read by anyone, including the professional economist, seriously interested in understanding and possibly contributing to the intensifying debate over what constitutes an economically optimal—and ethical—trade policy for the United States."


Food, Famine, and Free Trade
April 2000
by Jim Peron
"The division of labor coupled with free trade allows us to spread the risk of famine. Free trade is like an insurance policy that pools the risk among many individuals. It seems odd that so many people want coercive, mandatory social insurance and are opposed to this much fairer system. With free trade a nation receives the benefits of social insurance without the drawbacks of a coercive system."


Devious EU agricultural subsidies: Bust a CAP
July 11, 2003
by Kevin A. Hassett and Robert Shapiro
"The average person in sub-Saharan Africa earns less than $1 a day. The average cow in Europe -- thanks to government subsidies -- earns about $2 a day. And therein lies a tale of the power of European farm interests, and the weakness of African economies."


The Fair Trade Myth
July 1992
by Shyam J. Kamath
"Logic and hard evidence dictate that we resist the calls for “fair” trade if we wish to maintain and enhance our standard of living in an interdependent world. Free trade is still the best option for promoting American prosperity. “Fair” trade can only lead to an ever-escalating cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation, putting the world trading system at risk. Our future depends on keeping our borders open and the goods and services flowing."

Henry George and the Tariff Question
by Karen DeCoster
"Henry George's free trade principles also spawned the geolibertarianism movement, a "political philosophy that holds along with other forms of libertarian individualism that each individual has an exclusive right to the fruits of his or her labor, as opposed to this product being owned collectively by society or the community" (Wikipedia). Geolibertarianism (also known as geoanarchism) is, in a sense, a branch of anarcho-capitalism, taking its tenets from Locke, Jefferson, and Smith."

How To Win a Tariff War
May 31, 2012
by Gary North
"The tariff, in short, penalizes the efficient on both sides of the border, and it subsidizes the inefficient. If we were to find a better way of providing "foreign aid" to other countries, we might provide them with our goods (which they want) by purchasing their goods (which we want). That would be a noninflationary type of aid which would benefit both sides, rather than our present system which encourages bullies in our government and creates resentment abroad."

A Lecture on Free Trade: In Connexion with the Corn Laws, Delivered at the White Conduit House, on January 31, 1843
by Thomas Hodgskin
"Gentlemen, the cause of the League is the cause of truth and justice—the cause of trade and honest industry. If you live by the sweat of your brow or the toil of your minds, it is your cause. It is the cause of every industrious man, and every man who wishes for freedom. Hasten, therefore, to secure its success. By your power is monopoly maintained. In Britain public opinion gives the law to Parliament, and yours will be, as it now is, the punishment; for the people are the victims of bad laws, and yours will henceforth be the blame, should the Corn Laws be continued."

The Moral Aspect of the Protective Tariff
January 1994
by David Starr Jordan
"To guarantee any one a reasonable profit is to do so at the expense of the rest. The theory is one of injustice, whatever its result in practice."

Tariff Reform
by William Graham Sumner
"If now we begin to reduce and abolish the taxes which were laid during the war, we shall simply begin to free the American people from a clog on their energies and a waste of their industrial strength."

Tariffs Benefit Few, at Cost to All
October 11, 2010
by Daniel J. Ikenson
"Protection seekers individually have much more to gain than the average consumer has to lose individually. But the cost of protectionism to the broader economy can be substantial."

Tyranny Unmasked
by John Taylor
"An attack on the constitutionality of protective tariffs and other violations of the original understanding of the Constitution, as seen by the leading spokesman for the Jeffersonian 'Old Republicans'."


Either We Import Capital or We Export People
August 1985
by Gustavo R. Velasco
"What distinguishes a poor country such as Mexico or China from a country like the United States or Canada is not racial superiority, natural resources, good intentions or luck. What makes the labor of the American worker or the Canadian farmer more productive is that they work not just with their hands or with antiquated tools: they work with equipment and machinery. In other words, they work with the aid of capital. The best and most efficient way to improve the power of the Mexican workers, to increase production and to raise our standard of living, is through capitalization."


Free Trade And Foreign Wars
April 1983
by Sam H. Husbands, Jr.
"It is my purpose to show that though the principles of free trade and no entangling alliances on which the nation was founded were unique and sublime, we find that economic fallacy, misplaced patriotism, and political compromise have combined to undermine the legacy of those principles."

MFN Status, Trade Embargoes, Sanctions and Blockades: An Examination of Some Overlooked Property, Contract and Other Human Rights Issues
by Robert W. McGee
This paper briefly examines the literature on MFN status, trade embargoes and blockades, but goes beyond the normal utilitarian analysis into some overlooked issues involving property and contract rights and other human rights. Particular attention is paid to the use and possible abuse of MFN status as applied to the People's Republic of China and North Korea, and the trade sanctions against Cuba and Iraq. The paper concludes that a mere utilitarian analysis is insufficient when determining whether trade sanctions should be imposed on a country whose behavior is deemed inappropriate by some segment of the international community. Certain rights issues must also be considered.

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This page was last updated on June 5, 2012.