San Diego Law Review

Article Title

Free Trade Then and Now, or Still Manchester United


Global markets, like domestic commerce for that matter, can surely disrupt traditional ways of life, offering new opportunities but upsetting old certainties, sometimes transforming physical and human landscapes that may be comely, or may appear so from afar. Traditional ways of life may have particular aesthetic or even ethical appeal to intellectually-minded people in advanced market societies; and perhaps paradoxically, to enthusiasts for social justice and social change as well. Hence a kind of convergence of neo-feudalist and “progressive” critiques of free trade. But people around the world, especially amongst the poorest, exercise the choice—often in overwhelming numbers—for the fruits of freer trade whenever the choice is offered. Free trade can mean new opportunity, new hope, and a chance to escape from old ways. Support for free trade does not preclude reasonable regulation: surely against force and fraud, perhaps for other social interests as well. But knowledge costs, and diminished democratic checks, make international trade especially vulnerable to stifling over-regulation, whether in behalf of special interests or in pursuit of ethical illusions. The insights of Montesquieu, of Adam Smith, of Cobden and Bright, even, at unguarded moments, of Karl Marx—on the symbiosis of free trade with prosperity, tolerance, and peace; and against the seductions of protectionism and autarky—still have great force, in our own day as in theirs.