Marx on free trade

Mil­ton Fried­man and his wife Rose, who must sure­ly have heard more than their share of wise­cracks about two econ­o­mists and three opin­ions, observed that “Ever since Adam Smith there has been vir­tu­al una­nim­i­ty among econ­o­mists, what­ev­er their ide­o­log­i­cal posi­tion on oth­er issues, that inter­na­tion­al free trade is in the best inter­ests of trad­ing coun­tries and of the world.” What I had not real­ized until recent­ly is that this includes Karl Marx, who takes the prize for the most con­vo­lut­ed log­ic in sup­port of free trade I recent­ly came across Engel’s pref­ace to a speech that Marx was pre­vent­ed from giv­ing to a Free Trade Con­gress in Brus­sels in 1847. Fred scolds them on his friend’s behalf. But I can’t under­stand why the Con­gress didn’t care to hear this hilar­i­ous con­tor­tion bq. “To him, Free Trade is the nor­mal con­di­tion of mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. Only under Free Trade can the immense pro­duc­tive pow­ers of steam, of elec­tric­i­ty, of machin­ery, be ful­ly devel­oped; and the quick­er the pace of this devel­op­ment, the soon­er and the more ful­ly will be real­ized its inevitable results; soci­ety splits up into two class­es, cap­i­tal­ists here, wage-labor­ers there; hered­i­tary wealth on one side, hered­i­tary pover­ty on the oth­er; sup­ply out­strip­ping demand, the mar­kets being unable to absorb the ever grow­ing mass of the pro­duc­tion of indus­try; an ever recur­ring cycle of pros­per­i­ty, glut, cri­sis, pan­ic, chron­ic depres­sion, and grad­ual revival of trade, the har­bin­ger not of per­ma­nent improve­ment but of renewed over­pro­duc­tion and cri­sis; in short, pro­duc­tive forces expand­ing to such a degree that they rebel, as against unbear­able fet­ters, against the social insti­tu­tions under which they are put in motion; the only pos­si­ble solu­tion: a social rev­o­lu­tion, free­ing the social pro­duc­tive forces from the fet­ters of an anti­quat­ed social order, and the actu­al pro­duc­ers, the great mass of the peo­ple, from wage slav­ery. And because Free Trade is the nat­ur­al, the nor­mal atmos­phere for this his­tor­i­cal evo­lu­tion, the eco­nom­ic medi­um in which the con­di­tions for the inevitable social rev­o­lu­tion will be the soon­est cre­at­ed—for this rea­son, and for this alone, did Marx declare in favor of Free Trade.”(“Engels: On the Ques­tion of Free Trade(link to this excerpt)”:http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1888/free-trade/)

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