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/)
Peter Gallagher is student of piano and photography. He was formerly a senior trade official of the Australian government. For some years after leaving government, he consulted to international organizations, governments and business groups on trade and public policy.
He teaches graduate classes at the University of Adelaide on trade research methods and the role of firms in trade and growth and tweets trade (and other) stuff from @pwgallagher