Impractical Practicality

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Impractical Practicality

15/10/2014 | Don Boudreaux – Café Hayek

Here’s a letter to a correspondent from my home state of Louisiana:

Thanks for your e-mail:

You ask why I cannot “be more practical about trade.” My answer is that unconditional support for unconditional free trade is the most practical policy that is practically available. Unconditional free trade is far more practical than is your proposed alternative of empowering government officials to decide when, for how long, and to what degree trade should be free.

Free trade is simply consumers spending their money as they – rather than as government officials – wish. Yes: changes in the pattern of consumer demands destroy some jobs. But this reality is true whenever consumers change their spending pattern. It is as true, for example, when consumers shift their demands from domestically produced steel to domestically produced aluminum as when they shift their demands from domestically produced steel to foreign-produced steel. Anytime consumers change their spending pattern some incumbent producers suffer – and others gain. There’s absolutely nothing about freedom to trade across political borders that uniquely “destroys” (or creates) jobs.

What is unquestionably impractical is your notion that politicians and bureaucrats can be trusted to superintend the spending decisions of millions of individual and diverse consumers. Do you honestly believe that government officials with such awesome power will consistently resist political pressures to use that power on behalf of formidable interest groups? And do you really suppose that even if such officials, by some miracle, rise steadily above politics, they can ever gather enough knowledge to distinguish correctly between changes in consumer demands that are (to use your term) “economically tolerable” and those that are not?

With respect, your fantastical confidence in the motives and competence of government officials leads you to endorse policies that are profoundly impractical in comparison to a policy of unconditional free trade.


Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA, US.

This article is in reference to “The Benefits of Free Trade: Addressing Key Myths”, which you can find at:

Origianlly published on Blog Café Hayek by Don Boudreaux, October 6th, 2014

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