by Robert Metz – December 1988

Free trade, or not free trade, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The joy and pride while creating outrageous fortunes,
Or to take arms against a sea of “money grubbing” Yanks,
And by opposing end them. To socialize, to trade –
No more; and by socialize to say we end
The risks, and the responsibilities
That freedom is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly wished by Mel Hurtig – to be free, to trade –
To be free, perchance to take risks, ay there’s the rub;
For in being nationalists what risks we take
In isolating ourselves must give us pause – there’s the respect
That makes calamity of free trade.

For who would bear the hard work and time,
Th’ responsibility, the proud man’s noble efforts,
The pangs of making a decent buck, the government at bay,
The vitality of business, and the wealth that the worthy make,
By virtue of living in a free country? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a proud, free life,
But that the dread of statism,
That soon to be discovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the free mind,
And should make us bear free trade
Than to fly to protectionism that we know will lead to recession?
Thus free trade does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of nationalism
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of socialism,
And enterprises of once great acumen and determination
With the wave of “Liberalism” their dreams turn awry
And lose the name of freedom.

by Robert Vaughan with apologies to William Shakespeare

For those of us who support free trade on principle, it was extremely frustrating to watch the leaders of Canada’s three major national parties reduce the issue to a matter of political expedience during 1988’s federal election. In the wake of confusion caused by their shallow treatment of an issue that is of profound importance to each and every Canadian, voters were asking themselves “How do I know who to believe? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? How can I know?”

For the benefit of those who found themselves in this predicament, I offer the following list (admittedly incomplete) of considerations one should weigh in determining where to stand on the issue of free trade; You may be surprised to learn that the answers to these questions depend more on you than on anything politicians or economists can tell you.

For example, you should SUPPORT free trade if you believe that Canadians should have access to the best quality goods for the lowest possible price; You should be AGAINST free trade if you believe that the higher price you must pay for goods and services under a politically controlled economy is something you can afford, and is worth that cost of keeping an uncompetitive domestic business of industry afloat.

You should SUPPORT free trade if you believe that Canadian producers and workers have the initiative, talent, and know-how necessary to make them leaders in whatever field they choose to compete; You should be AGAINST free trade if you think that Canadians don’t have what it takes to make it in an progressive, challenging economic environment.

You should SUPPORT free trade if you view the world community as an opportunity for expanded trade, new friendly relationships, or as a way to break down barriers that prevent us from sharing views and discoveries with peoples of other lands; You should be AGAINST free trade if you view the productive talents of others as a threat, or view individuals from other countries as “enemies” from whom you must be “protected”.

You should SUPPORT free trade if you believe that human relationships should be based on the principle of mutual consent, where all economic transactions occur on a voluntary basis, to mutual benefit; You should be AGAINST free trade if you believe that government should continue to force people to pay for services and products they would not freely choose for themselves.

You should SUPPORT free trade if you believe in individual freedom and in the concept of individual responsibility with which it is undeniably connected; You should be AGAINST free trade if you believe that politicians and governments should be making all our choices, and taking all our responsibilities away from us.

You should SUPPORT free trade if you believe that an individual should earn what he or she receives it in life; You should be AGAINST free trade if you believe that some people it in society should have an enforced right to exist on the regulated and taxed earnings of others.

You should SUPPORT free trade if you believe that democracy is a system of individual freedom, a society it in which each individual governs himself according to objective laws which protect an individual’s right to make his or her own choices; You should be AGAINST free trade if you view democracy” as a system of “majority rule”, where any majority may vote to do whatever it likes to any minority, without regard for fundamental rights and freedoms.

You should SUPPORT free trade if you believe that a country’s true strength lies in the peace and prosperity brought about by creative, productive effort; You should be AGAINST free trade if you believe that country’s strength is determined by how effectively its government can erect barriers between people, and how much power it has to control the choices of its own citizens.

As a principled supporter of free trade, I found it regrettable that the federal Conservatives chose to defend freer (not free) trade only on pragmatic, economical grounds, as a matter of economic necessity rather than a matter of individual right. The real reasons to support or oppose free trade are moral, ethical, philosophical — and, as you can see, deeply personal, encompassing both our fears and our expectations. For each of us as individuals freer trade simply means that our economic success or failure will depend a little less on politicians and a little more on the choices each of us makes, as freer citizens.

For my part, I have learned that national peace and prosperity have always been the natural consequences of free trade; confrontation, division, and a general lowering of a nation’s standard of living have always been the natural consequence of economic borders and barriers. I have yet to find an exception to this rule.

Any positive step it in the direction of freer trade — with any nation — should be welcomed by all. {end}

– Robert Metz,    Consent #6    December 1988