Paul Jacob

We can all support democracy without demanding to “put everything up for a vote.” Our greatest democratic freedoms include the individual’s freedom from being tromped all over, “democratically” or otherwise, by government.

Democracy isn’t just about voting. And a republic isn’t just about getting to elect officials. Limits on politics are what make us free.

So on that note, let me say that I’m sure glad science isn’t put up for a vote . . . more than it is already. When given unlimited purview to control, anyone can get corrupted. That whiff of power can drive even some of the best of people crazy.

How crazy?

Denial-of-reality crazy: If heliocentrism were up for political grabs, governments might be forced to go against Galileo once again. After all, fearful politicians or a fevered-up plurality could say: See, the sun rises and sets — all the proof you need that the sun revolves around the Earth!

Just so with trade policy. There are few truths so firmly established as comparative advantage and the notion that with free trade we all gain.

But some see in competition only the fearsome beast. Who? Some businessmen, some workers. The ones who see red are usually those who’ve just gotten a pink slip.

While it’s certainly true that competition can make us work harder — and smarter — competition just as surely produces more and cheaper goods than protectionism would allow. And it opens up new avenues for employment and entrepreneurship, too. In the long run, pink slips slip into every worker’s shoebox. We move on.

Don’t forget, the history of trade is a history of success after success. And the freer the trade, the better. Protectionism is not a policy for the workingman, though everyone nowadays seems to pretend that’s the case. It was and remains a policy to help some at the expense of others, usually some rich at the expense of those a lot less rich. Picking at the scabs of rough-and-tumble competitions past, Lou-Dobbs fashion, doesn’t undo the writings of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Frederic Bastiat, Arthur Latham Perry (once the most famous of American free trade scholars), or the work of today’s best economists.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.