Too bad it’s all in the service of One Big Lie.
Welcome to the Global Week of Action for Trade Justice, which started last Sunday and runs through this Saturday.
More than a year ago, some of the world’s leading protectionist groups joined forces and promised to deliver “the biggest global mobilization we have seen” in an unprecedented effort “to challenge the free trade myth” (according to their website).
Well, so far I’m not impressed. For one thing, my busy social calendar is already full, what with it already being National Library Week, National Crime Victims’ Rights Weeks, National County Government Week, Electronic Communications Week, and National Garden Week. I don’t have time for a Global Week of Action!
But more important, there’s no “myth” to challenge–free trade is a reality in the world today. It’s a very healthy reality because it increases prosperity whenever and wherever people choose to take advantage of it.
At the same time, I’m concerned about the protectionists’ new rhetoric. Have you noticed that they never call themselves protectionists anymore? Instead, they describe themselves as advocates of “trade justice” or “fair trade.”
These are euphemisms, of course, and carefully chosen ones to appeal to the fairness and justice in us all. But we must remember that the only kind of trade that’s both just and fair IS free trade. Anything else seeks to undermine people’s choice, their opportunity to compete and their chance to improve economically.
This so-called fair trade is like beauty–it’s in the eye of the beholder. There’s a strong temptation for some people to believe that something is “fair” simply because they benefit from it.
But in the marketplace, the best judges of fairness are consumers making decisions about price and quality at the point of transaction. Rather than limit their choices, we should enable a broad range.
This is exactly what free trade affords. It also happens to be supremely fair because it gives producers everywhere a clear shot at making a sale.
The supporters of the Global Week of Action say that free trade is to blame for the economic plight of poor nations. Yet the opposite is true. Developing nations are, on average, much bigger protectionists than developed nations are. The fact that they are also poor is no coincidence. Their predicament is not merely the result of closed markets, but also short sighted policy on their government’s part. For a useful comparison, the detractors of trade should look to success stories like Singapore and Hong Kong which have risen from colonial history to economic powerhouses of the first order.
Interestingly, the industrial nations like to share a bit of the wealth in the form of aid. Earlier this year, Gordon Brown, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer (whose job is comparable to our own Treasury secretary), called for “a new Marshall Plan” for the developing world. As the London-based Globalization Institute pointed out, however, Africa alone has been the recipient of foreign aid equal to about six Marshall Plans already. Is one more really supposed to make a difference?
Using foreign aid programs as a sop to our conscience is the coward’s way. Americans should see that helping our neighbors to make an honest buck in business is a whole let more fruitful in the end. The way that sticks long term is in the enabling and encouragement of trade in places like Africa, Central America and others. Drawing further inward, in the name of protectionism masquerading as “fair trade,” is a recipe for disaster on all sides. “Fair trade” as the latest protectionist euphemism, just continues the same old deception.
So if you run across one of these people involved with the Global Week of Action, just remember what the witches in Macbeth said: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”
In the meantime, will somebody please announce plans for a National Week of Common Sense?
Reg Clause raises cattle, corn and soybeans on a fourth generation family farm in central Iowa. He is a board member of Truth About Trade and Technology