Chris Wood
Sunday December 25th, 2011

Does Humanity Benefit from Free Trade?

Roland presented his dire view of free trade in Soon after, the Templeton Foundation circulated some powerful arguments for free trade under the title “Free Markets are Morally Good”. I have copied this mailing to the end of my posting.

Of course free trade cannot solve all the World’s problems, but it does not cause them either. I am no great fan of the Templeton Foundation, (although it has improved greatly since the days when it was heavily supporting creationists). As regards the present state of the world, I find their arguments more convincing than Roland’s gloom. Yes, a billion people are hungering, but more people than ever before have enough to eat, and the proportion of well fed has increased in recent decades. Yes people are dieing from too much poor food and too little exercise, but average life expectation has never been so high. Yes, we are shocked by news of senseless violence, but violent crime per head of population is decreasing.

I was always sceptical about the view that capitalism exploits people. Generally the exploited people seem eager to cooperate. Without this “exploitation”, they would be in an even bigger mess. Capitalism often cooperates with the rulers of undemocratic countries. But the people would hardly be better off if their countries were boycotted.

Roland’s view is surprising in view of his extreme belief in the value of freedom. Free trade is an important aspect of freedom. Perhaps the greatest human injustice in the world is that the great majority of people are denied the right to sell their labour, (except via internet), in the country of their choice.

Of course free trade needs to be regulated, for instance regarding weapons, swindles and monopolies. Some new regulations are needed from time to time, currently for finance. There are also regulations that should be eliminated.

I find it very hard to separate the current rapid changes in the world according to whether they are caused by science, technology, democracy, capitalism, free trade, or religion. My generation in Europe has lived so far in a golden age. I was about 20 when the baby pill came, and was married for the second time before AIDS spread. We had a purpose in life, to rebuild prosperity after the World Wars. If I have grave doubts now about capitalism and free trade, it concerns what comes next, in terms of overpopulation, climate change and depletion of resources. A serious crash, perhaps ending civilisation, seems more likely than that these problems will be cleverly solved. Free trade contributes to these problems, but also to their solutions. Religion certainly contributes to the problems. Believers have more babies. Some clearly believe that God will solve the problems. Religion probably helps people to be nice to their friends and relatives, and to grin and bear it when things go wrong, but is that enough?

I hope the links in the Templeton stuff are still valid.

Free Markets are Morally Good

Three years ago, the John Templeton Foundation put this question to a number of eminent thinkers: Does the free market corrode moral character? The Foundation compiled and published the thought-provoking answers from thinkers as diverse as chess legend Garry Kasparov, economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Tyler Cowen, philosophers Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michael Walzer, and human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, as part of JTF’s Big Questions series.

Now, building on that remarkable conversation, JTF is helping the non-profit Washington-based Atlas Economic Research Foundation launch The Morality of Free Enterprise Project. It’s a global education initiative designed to explain and promote the idea that capitalism both depends on and reinforces morally responsible behavior. The effort will translate, publish, and distribute books and pamphlets on the moral worth of free markets, sponsor essay contests, and produce online teaching videos, like this one on the morality of profit.

The Morality of Free Enterprise Project is funded in part by a $150,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation. JTF also sponsors under the Atlas aegis the annual Templeton Freedom Awards, which recognize exemplary programs by private, non-profit think tanks that promote the principles of a free society.


1 Kommentar zu “Does Humanity Benefit from Free Trade?”

  1. rd (Sunday December 25th, 2011)

    Lieber Chris,

    Du solltest langsam wissen, dass mein Begriff von Freiheit nichts mit der Freizügigkeit fürs Geschäfte Machen oder Autofahren zu tun hat.

    Insofern ist schon das Attribut falsch. Man müsste vom sogenannten “freien Welthandel” sprechen oder besser vom freizügigen Welthandel.

    Es ist kein Widerspruch, wenn man Freiheit als großes Gut schätzt und trotzdem sinnvolle Einschränkungen beim Welt-Handel wie auch sonst in der Wirtschaft zum Schutz von Menschen und Gesellschaften fordert. Die “Freiheit”, Gewerbe und Handel betreiben zu dürfen, ist ein Recht. Dieses Recht verpflichtet – wie dies Rechte immer tun.

    Und es gibt ja viele sinnvolle Einschränkungen. Du bist doch auch für Steuern auf Tabakprodukte, Regulationen beim Handel mit Rauschgift. Die Energiesteuer ist sinnvoll und vieles mehr. Warum sollte man nicht Wettbewerbsverzerrungen, die durch z.B. vorsätzlichen und gnadenlosen Verbrauch von Umwelt ergaunert, durch Zölle oder Steuern wieder korrigiert und damit entschärft werden?

    Ist es moralisch, wenn wir davon profitieren, dass Menschen in Europa ein Einkommen von weniger als 500 € haben und in China die Gehälter im Produktionsbereich vernachlässigt werden können? Und wir uns deshalb zum Beispiel Textilien im Überfluss leisten, weil es halt nichts kostet.

    Wird aber nicht gemacht, weil fragwürdige Apostel nach “Freiem Welthandel” blöken. Und noch fragwürdigere Organisationen wie nicht zuletzt die Templeton Foundation das quasi-wissenschaftlich widerlegen wollen.

    Wie bist Du bloß auf die gekommen?

    Ich kann Dir gerne noch ein paar Links auf ähnliche schlimme Institutionen geben. Mache ich aber nicht öffentlich, weil ich für so etwas nicht werben will.

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