Acton Institute Powerblog

Donald Trump and Milton Friedman Debate Free Trade

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donald-trump-milton-friedmanIf it wasn’t for Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump would win the title of most economically illiterate presidential candidate in the short history of the twenty-first century.

A prime example of why he’d earn this ignoble title is Trump’s opposition to free trade — a position which, not surprisingly, he shares with Sanders. The only real difference between Sanders and Trump on this issue is that no one trust that Trump would actually carry out his proposed destructive policies (he’d flip-flop on the issue like he does on everything else), while Sanders would be devastatingly consistent.

The video below compares and contrasts Trump’s ignorance about free trade with the wisdom of Milton Friedman, one of the greatest economists in American history.

If judged on substance, it’s obvious Friedman wins this debate. But in the long run Trump and other anti-free market politicians are likely to continue to convince the public to support their terrible, anti-trade policies. When it comes to economics, Americans have a tendency to reject policies that make our country more prosperous in favor of ignorant demagoguery that gives the appearance of punishing foreign nations.

(Via: AEI Ideas)

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • A key quote from Milton Friedman occurs at the 2:00 minute mark in defense of free trade – “When I look at the legislation it always seems to me that the legislation is enacted to benefit a small group at the expense of the large group. Free trade is a way of benefiting a large group at the expense of the small group. But, politically, a small group always speaks with a bigger voice.”

  • Darren

    The issue with free trade is that it doesn’t take into account power relations that will make the very idea of total free trade, as advocated by Friedman, a mere utopia. What has been usually referred to as “free trade” for the past 30 years has done exactly the opposite from what Friedman predicted (“benefiting a large group at the expense of the small group”). Instead a small group has benefited from it at the expense of the large group.

  • zanzeh

    What the physical and intellectual midget Friedman advocated to the public, and what his acolytes applied in reality were often diametrically opposite things. Friedman also claimed that free markets somehow magically create free societies, yet now we watch the rise of the neoliberal free markets of China and Singapore that are couple with a very repressive authoritarian government. The disconnect is real.

  • David Houck

    The problem with this article is that we don’t have free trade with China or Mexico, etc. we have agreements that we abide by but they skirt the rules and cheat and we do nothing to stop them! Our trade ” partners” don’t respect or abide by copyright laws. They don’t respect intellectual property. They constantly counterfeit items and sell on the black market. Donald Trump has said many times that he is for FAIR free trade. And Milton is discussing FAIR free trade. FAIR free trade is not what we have!!