Down With Fraudulent ‘Fair’ Trade, by Jim Bovard

A fair trade is a voluntary exchange between parties. Government destroys such fair trades in the name of their own conception of “fair” trade, which is anything but fair. From Jim Bovard at libertarianinstitute.org:

The Biden administration is embracing the same flawed “fair trade” mantra that previous administrations used to sanctify protectionist policies. Biden’s team has “largely dispensed with the idea of free trade as a goal in and of itself,” the New York Times reported. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai recently touted the Biden administration’s plans to “shape the rules for fair trade in the 21st century.” What could possibly go wrong from such a lofty aspiration?

Thirty years ago, my book The Fair Trade Fraud was published by St. Martin’s Press. That book was translated into Japanese and Korean, and adapted as a textbook at the University of Chicago, Duke University, American University, University of Texas, and many other colleges. That book exposed fair trade as one of the great intellectual frauds of modern times. It is also a moral delusion that could lead to endless conflicts and an economic catastrophe.

When politicians call for fair trade with foreigners, they use a concept of fairness diametrically opposed to the word’s normal usage. In exchanges between individuals – in contract law – the test of fairness is the voluntary consent of each party to the bargain: “the free will which constitutes fair exchanges,” as Sen. John Taylor wrote in 1822. When politicians speak of unfair trade, they do not mean that buyers and sellers did not voluntarily agree, but that federal officials disapprove of bargains American citizens made. Fair trade means government intervention to direct, control, or restrict trade.

Fair trade often consists of some politician or bureaucrat picking a number out of thin air and forcibly imposing it on foreign businesses and American consumers. Fair trade meant that Jamaica was allowed to sell the U.S. only 970 gallons of ice cream a year, that Mexico could sell Americans only 35,292 bras a year, and that Poland could ship us only 51,752 pounds of barbed wire. Fair trade meant permitting each American citizen to consume the equivalent of only one teaspoon of foreign ice cream per year, two foreign peanuts per year, and one pound of imported cheese per year.

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