Acton Institute Powerblog

The Freedom Of Free Trade

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At The Stream, Anne Bradley writes about the freedom that free trade brings. Why does free trade matter?

    • We live in a world of scarcity: we have unlimited wants and limited means (resources) to satisfy those wants.
    • As individuals, we aren’t good at producing everything we need to survive. We are limited in our talents and opportunities.
    • We flourish when we are free to trade the things we are better at producing for the things we are not as good at producing.

Bradley notes that – if she had to rely solely on herself for her morning oatmeal – she’d starve. She cannot grow the oats or harvest them. She does not have the knowledge to make a stove on which to cook the oats, nor to dig a well required for the water. Free trade brings such things to us with relative ease.

Beyond that, you don’t have to be wealthy to benefit from free trade. In fact, the poor are probably the ones who most benefit from free market economics.

I don’t need to be anywhere near the top 1% of the income distribution to have all these products and millions more. Free trade frees me up to do other things: the things that I am relatively better at doing. It does the same for you. Free trade is largely what separates us from the developing world since it liberates each one of us from trying to produce everything we need to survive.

Left entirely to our own devices, most of us would be either dead or rubbing sticks together in a cave somewhere. Most of human history has been about survival. Brad Delong, economist at U.C. Berkeley, writes that by most accounting measures, until about 1340 A.D. humans lived on about $100 per year and even then it was not until 1925 that world GDP per capita broke $1,000 per year.

The problem in the world today, Bradley says, is not the lack of wealth, but the lack of access to free markets.

Right now somewhere in the third world there is a woman walking to a dirty waterhole where animals bathe. She is collecting water for cooking and drinking and doing the backbreaking work of hand-washing clothes for her family. She doesn’t get to come home and fill a plastic cup with ice and clean water fortified with fluoride. Our scenario is unfathomable to her but mundane to us. The lack of free trade keeps the poor in chains.

Free trade opens up markets to the most disenfranchised. This access will allow them to build wealth, and give them the opportunity to free themselves from poverty.

Read “Free Trade Frees Us — and the Poor — for Better Things” at The Stream.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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