The Rules of Free Trade are Simple

What follows is a letter I’ve written to the Wall Street Journal:

Greg Ip’s 31 May 2018 piece, “Lessons in How to do Protectionism Well,” is interesting to say the least.  However, there is a major way in which Mr. Ip errs.  he writes: “He has thus far been relatively easy on China, which even free traders agree is a serial violator of the rules of free trade…”

It is unclear what rules of free trade Mr. Ip seems to think China has violated.  The rules of free trade are simple: people are voluntarily able to exchange their property rights.  China, at least outside of the country, has not compelled anyone to buy from them.  All trade done with China, that is individuals buying from other individuals who just happen to be Chinese, is voluntary.  China has not violated the rules of free trade at all.  If China were forcing American consumers to buy Chinese products, then yes they’d be violating the rules and should subsequently be punished.  But offering Americans goods at low prices is not a violation as the exchange that occurs is still voluntary.


Jon Murphy

George Mason University

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