Jacques Delacroix makes an odd argument over at his blog Facts Matter:
Free trade is not a moral principle, it’s an expediency; violating the principle just costs money.
This argument comes after he admits that he would be very, very open to protectionism because of Mexico’s recent decision to denationalize its oil and natural gas industries.
Before I continue, who does Dr Delacroix think would benefit from a protectionist union with the United States?
Would he really advocate denationalizing the Mexican energy sector simply to force resources north of the border through a protectionist union? This seems to be the implication of his argument. If expediency is indeed Dr Delacroix’s excuse for free trade, then he automatically loses the argument to mercantilists (what, for example, sounds more expedient to you: A nationalized energy sector or free trade?).
It is precisely because of this automatic defeat that an 18th century moral philosopher (Adam Smith) decided to write a book on the moral superiority of free trade over protectionism (The Wealth of Nations). At its core, free trade is about the freedom of the individual to do what she pleases so long as no force nor fraud is involved. Once this underlying moral argument is understood, free trade can easily be seen as the natural outgrowth of such a philosophy.
Here is something to look out for as you read arguments put forth in the press: The moral argument. If an argument claims to have no moral underpinning it doesn’t mean there is no moral underpinning. It just means that the proponent of a said argument does not care for opposing or alternative arguments.
Ugh, this is getting convoluted so let me see if I can use an example. Suppose a politician or an academic is making an argument in favor of a policy (the policy itself is irrelevant). Suppose the proponent of this policy argues that the best reason to show support for his policy is because it will make everybody better off (it doesn’t matter how). Suppose further that this politician or academic claims that his policy is expedient rather moral, and that this in and of itself is one of the policy’s main features.
Would you support it?
Because throughout history most people have. This support is why we see a stagnation – of incomes, of years lived, and of innovation – for thousands of years in human history. The impact on mores that the expediency-over-morality outlook had on humanity can also be reflected in our utterly violent past.
I point out the difference between arguing from a moral standpoint and arguing from an expedient one because of the consequences that each of these approaches tend to produce. For example, Dr Delacroix also advocates military adventurism abroad in the name of expediency rather than morality. Can you guess why he still defends the actions of the Bush administration? But the Iraqis held elections, right guys? Right?
The moral thing to do – secure the lives and liberties of individuals first and foremost – is usually also the hardest thing to do, especially when people continually wave expedient choices in the faces of those who must choose. Yet I think that when and where this simple moral principle is able to gain a foothold in the minds of enough people, the rewards are ample.
Speaking of rewards, the ‘comments’ section at Dr Delacroix’s blog is currently inundated with speculation about whether or not Santa Claus was (was) really white-skinned. One reaps what one sows, after all!