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PERSPECTIVE

Getting It Right

Editorialist Sebastian Mallaby Writes in Favor of Free Trade

AUGUST 01, 2000 by SHELDON RICHMAN

Ideas on Liberty has a place—“It Just Ain’t So!”—to take editorialists and op-ed writers to task for their economic fallacies. We don’t have a place to praise them when they get it right. Since they don’t do it often, that’s usually not a problem. But on rare occasions, someone does and it should be recognized.

On May 5, a member of the Washington Post’s editorial page staff, Sebastian Mallaby, wrote a column about trade with China. Beginning with the title, it was extraordinary: “Imports Are Good for You.” When was the last time you saw someone—even a free trader—write that in a publication for general readers?

Mallaby is worth quoting:

The trade debate on China is about human rights, the rule of law, Taiwan, religious freedom, nuclear proliferation, communism; it is about almost anything, in other words, except trade principles. Even those who champion China’s accession to the World Trade Organization would not be caught dead citing the idea of comparative advantage, or reminding Americans that imports from China benefit them.

Charlene Barshefsky, the U.S. trade representative, boasts loudly about the exports that her deal will foster. But imports? She’s proud that the agreement creates myriad ways to block them.

Mallaby goes on to point out that a pending trade bill for Africa and the Caribbean mocks liberalization by attaching protectionist conditions. The Caribbean countries may not export clothes to the United States duty-free unless they are made from American cloth. The Africans are obliged to prevent their apparel exports from growing too quickly, whatever that means. Mallaby notes that “the case for imports has been neglected for so long that most people have forgotten it.” And yet, Mallaby reports, free trade in clothing would save families $700 a year, not to mention help those poor regions get richer. Curious, isn’t it, how those who make careers of rhetorically bleeding for the poor always have reasons for blocking free trade.

As Mallaby concludes:

The idea that you are hurt by foreign imports should be as easily dismissed as the notion that you are hurt by your local food store. Sure, you buy groceries from the store, and the store never reciprocates by buying anything from you. But that doesn’t mean you would be helped if the store were hit with a large tax—which is what tariffs amount to.

Hear, hear!


Any society that pays athletes more than it pays teachers has something wrong with it. How many times have you heard that one? Would you believe that the exact opposite is true? William Anderson makes the case.

A pleasant walk through a park shouldn’t be disturbed by government propaganda. Alas, Andrew Morriss’s was, and he wasn’t a bit happy about it.

The revolutionary ideas that fueled the founding of the American republic were not of recent vintage. Indeed, as Jim Peron shows, they dated back thousands of years.

News flash: Government steps in to save consumers from the coming diabolical butter monopoly. Unfortunately, as Raymond Keating explains, this is no spoof.

State universities recently got the go-ahead from the U.S. Supreme Court to charge students mandatory fees that finance campus political groups. Bad ruling, writes George Leef.

Childhood asthma is on the increase, something the Environmental Protection Agency is intent on exploiting in order to impose its regulatory agenda. The trouble is, writes Ben Lieberman, the EPA’s case is a tissue of contradictions.

The economics profession applies Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” imagery to itself, assuming that society prospers as economists prosper. Daniel Klein has his doubts.

Is resistance to political authority ever justified? America’s intellectual ancestors thought so, though they are out of fashion in more ways than one. James Bovard looks at a controversial subject.

Despite the news media’s take, corporate “downsizing” is not a permanent catastrophe for people who lose their jobs. It never was—not even when it happened to the Pony Express. Larry Schweikart tells the tale.

Can a society conduct a war against drug users and remain free? Lance Lamberton shows why in myriad ways the answer must be no.

Our columnists have come up with an assortment of provocations: Donald Boudreaux ponders freedom of association. Lawrence Reed cuts through the fog on gun control. Doug Bandow describes his visit to Cambodia. Dwight Lee adds a caveat to his discussion of marginal value. Mark Skousen contemplates private production of public goods. Charles Baird envisions OSHA at home. And Andrew Biggs tells those who think stock-market fluctuations upset the case for getting rid of Social Security, “It Just Ain’t So!”

Books on great Austrian economists, the free-trade debate, globalization, the service economy, the Internet, and the observations of Walter Williams get the attention of this month’s reviewers.

—Sheldon Richman

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

August 2000

ABOUT

SHELDON RICHMAN

Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and TheFreemanOnline.org, and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families.

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