price —$2.00 for a gallon of milk, $30,000 for a Lexus, 15 cowsrnfor your daughter.rnWhether we cut the deal for a pound of pork chops in myrnback)’ard, go to market, to market, to buy a fat pig, or speculaternon pork belly futures at the Chicago Board of Trade, the transactionrnis, hypothetically, between two individuals. But howrnfree is it? Apart from the imaginary state of nature that no rationalrnphilosopher can take seriously, men everywhere live in societiesrnthat impose rules on these transactions. They enact restrictionsrnon who can trade and prohibitions on trading certainrngoods, such as drugs, weapons and strategic materiel, and historicalrntreasures. One way or another, there are usually chargesrnfor the use of the marketplace. Trade is never free, whether it isrndomestic or international. There is always some group—thernking and his council, the Church, a craft guild, a trade commission,rnthe WTO —that takes it upon itself to make rules andrnset limits. And if these official imposts were not sufficiently burdensome,rnthere is always a corrupt executive asking for kickbacks,rna bureaucrat demanding baksheesh, a mobster collectingrnweekly payments for protection.rnSuppose the impossible for a minute. Suppose that insteadrnof the thousands of pages of jury-rigged international tradernagreements (including GATT and NAFTA) the governmentsrnof the world took themselves out of the picture and said thatrnborders no longer mattered. Would trade be free? Of coursernnot, because every level of government, from neighborhood associationsrnto the feds, regulate every aspect of trade. They fixrnwage rates, regulate competition, impose safet’, health, and environmentalrnstandards. Some small part of this regulation mayrnbe in the public interest. The beneficiaries of most of it, however,rnare the bureaucrats themselves and the larger businessesrnthat can influence the writing of the regulations. It was in thisrnsense that libertarian free-trader Lew Rockwell endorsed PatrnBuchanan in 1992 as the nearest thing to a free trade candidate,rnprecisely because Pat was the only Republican promising to cutrnthe size of the federal bureaucracy.rnWlio is so naive as to think that multinational businesses arernany less eager to cartelize and monopolize their market? So far,rnin fact, no serious policymaker has actually made a proposal forrnfree foreign trade. Whatever else NAFTA and GATT mightrndo, they do not increase the freedom of buyers and sellers.rnEven while reducing tariffs, they impose a mare’s nest of regulations,rnprohibitions, and international tribunals that underminernboth the sovereignty of the United States and the constitutionalrnorder established by the Founding Fathers.rnIn recent months, the World Trade Organization has struckrndown American laws banning the importation of seafood fromrncountries that are casually exterminating turtles and dolphins.rn”Good,” say the free-traders, “turtles and dolphins don’t buy orrnsell camcorders or baby food.” In the same vein, a libertarianrneconomist once responded to Chilton Williamson’s appeal forrna sense of environmental stewardship by declaring, “The bestrnuse for the Grand Canyon would be to turn it into a toxic wasterndump.” We should not be surprised when people who despisernall creation turn out to despise their neighbors and fellow citizens.rnAt first, it seems like a paradox—that the very people arguingrnfor free trade are in fact calling for greater regulationrnand at a level more distant from businessmen and consumers.rnBut the free h-ade religion is nothing but a paradox—if that isrnthe right word for talking out of both sides of )our mouth. Radicalrnfree-traders cannot even make up their minds about theirrnbasic principle. One minute they are taking the high groundrnthat free trade is an ultimate good, the summum bonum of humanrnexistence, but in the next minute they are claiming thatrnthe real bottom line, so to speak, is the welfare of the consumer.rnHow do we answer such an argument? If you think that “gettingrnand spending” is all there is in life, I have nothing to say tornyou. You need prayers, not arguments. When an economistrnlike Gary Becker tries to analyze the family as a set of competingrnindividualists, he only reveals his ignorance of human naturernand his superstitious reverence for a science (sociobiology)rnthat he does not understand. The problem, in Becker’s case atrnleast, is not lack of principle or intelligence (he clearly hasrnboth), but starting with counter-factual assumptions—crudelyrnput, they are individualism and materialism —he cannot understandrnman as a social animal. Putting his faith in economicrntheory and in the reductionist abstractions of biologist RobertrnTrivers, Becker constructs a picture of man in which only individualsrnexist. When economists put social relations under thernmicroscope, groves and copses (families and communities) disappear;rnforests (or nations) are defined out of existence.rnEconomics, however, is not a religion, and markets are notrngods, much less God. They are a human mechanism to providernfor human needs. Even in the ideal, the purpose of a marketrnis not to produce the greatest “efficiency,” because marketsrnare not an end in themselves; they are supposed to serve thernconvenience and happiness of human beings. This is one ofrnmany valuable lessons I have learned from Austrian economistsrnlike Murray Rothbard, who rejected a conception of valuernbased on labor and stuck to the central point: that value is subjectivernand should always be translated to mean “valuable tornsomeone.” It would have been much more “efficient” for Murrayrnto write on a computer, and his friends persuaded a geniusrnto design a system just for Rothbard. After spending some timernin consultation with the retrograde libertarian, the computerrnwiz gave up in despair, telling Murray’s friends, “I’ve just designedrnthe manual typewriter.”rnThis is a roundabout and crude way of suggesting that therernis no one trade policy that fits all situations, just as there is nornone political system that is best for all peoples, no ice cream flavorrnto please every individual. In many sihiations, low tariffs,rneven no tariffs, are a good idea for a country, particularly whenrnthe benefits are shared by the majority of the citizens. When arnnation is building an empire or dominates world trade or is in arnver)’ strong position, as Britain was in the early 19th century andrnthe United States was after World War II, free trade may bernsound nationalist doctrine. But when a nation wants to defendrnits cultural and political independence, its people might wellrnwish to erect a tariff barrier around it—particularly when, likernthe United States today, it is experiencing an identity crisis.rnEven in purely economic terms, low tariffs are not inevitablyrna blessing. During the current period of lowered tariffs, sincern1973, real household income appears to have been steadily goingrndown. I say “appears,” because I do not trust economicrnstatistics any more than I trust opinion polls. Whatever else canrnbe said, American workers—and consumers—are not better offrnthan they were 2 5 )ears ago. Of course, there may be other reasonsrnfor the dismal trajectory of lowering expectations, butrnmore than a few economists—even those believing in globalrnfree trade—concede that competition from the more cheaplyrnpaid workers of Asia and Latin America have helped to keeprnreal wages from keeping pace with the rising cost of living.rnJULY 1998/11rnrnrn