Mises Wire

Free Trade vs. Government Diktat

Given the ongoing destruction of liberty and prosperity from President Trump’s trade wars, tariffs, sanctions, and embargoes, it’s time to think at a higher level, one that goes beyond mere criticism of Trump’s trade antics. It’s time to think in terms of individual liberty, free markets, and limited government, all of which translate to the idea of unilateral free trade.

What does unilateral free trade mean? It means that the U.S. government should simply lift, dismantle, abolish, repeal, and end all of its tariffs, trade restrictions, sanctions, embargoes, import quotas, and trade wars. No meetings. No negotiations. No demands. No “free trade” agreements. Just free the American people to travel wherever they want and trade with whomever they want.

Does this mean that other nations will do the same? Nope. Other nations might follow suit but not necessarily. Should that affect America’s decision to adopt a policy of unilateral free trade? Absolutely not! Americans should be liberated to travel and trade with others regardless of what foreign regimes are doing in their particular nations.

First and foremost is the principle of liberty. When people are living under a regime that wields the power to control the economic exchanges they enter into with others, there is no way for those people to be considered genuinely free. Freedom necessarily entails the right to travel wherever one wants to travel and trade with whomever he wants to trade. Any infringement on freedom of travel and freedom of trade, whether through tariffs, import quotas, trade restrictions, sanctions, embargoes, and trade wars, constitutes a severe violation of the principles of liberty.

Secondarily is the concept of prosperity and rising standards of living. It is an axiom that in every trade, both sides benefit, from their own individual perspective. That’s because in every trade, a person is giving up something he values less for something he values more. Every time a shopper buys any item from another person, he has improved his standard of living, and so has the seller. At the moment of the trade, they have both given up something they value less for something they value more.

Thus, whenever the government adopts rules, regulations, policies, or laws that interfere with the freedom of people to trade with others, the government is harming people’s economic well-being and reducing their standard of living.

Throughout history, people have been forced to live under regimes that wield the power to control trade. It’s time for one nation to lead the rest of the world out of this statist morass. I say that that nation should be America. Here is what I propose: A constitutional amendment stating the following: “No law shall be enacted, by either the federal government or the state governments, respecting the regulation of trade, or abridging the free exercise thereof.”

The advantage of a constitutional amendment, as compared to simply repealing, ending, abolishing, and dismantling Trump’s sanctions, embargoes, trade restrictions, tariffs, and trade wars is that the American people would no longer have to concern themselves with some president or Congress imposing, willy-nilly, some new restriction on their freedom to travel and their freedom to trade. If Trump, for example, wakes up some morning and suddenly and impulsively decides to start a wage war against China, someone can quickly file suit in federal court to get his trade war enjoined as a violation of the free-trade clause in the Constitution.

On July 4, Americans celebrated the Declaration of Independence, a document that points out that everyone, including Americans, possesses the natural, God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Isn’t it time for Americans to recapture those rights by prohibiting their own government from infringing upon them? A good place to begin would be the adoption of a policy of unilateral free trade and a constitutional amendment enshrining it into law.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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