From the first establishment of (trade) which served reciprocal but not common purposes, a process has been going on for millennia which, by making rules of conduct independent of the particular purposes of those concerned, made it possible to extend these rules to ever wider circles of undetermined persons and eventually might make possible a universal peaceful order of the world.
Rather than seek to put forth theories founded upon the opinions of F.A. Hayek, the mission of this essay is to use all the wisdom available pertaining to the subject, which wisdom stretches far beyond one person.
“Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it.”-George Bernard Shaw-
The dismissing of trade’s usefulness for the promotion of civilized principles as naïve could very well be compared to the above statement. The concept of truly free trade stands as an untried principle, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of unapplied theories. Why has the idea been so discarded? Often, the reason for so doing is in pursuit of human rights. These human rights stem from basic morals espoused by the classical liberals, affirming man’s natural freedoms.
Arguments posed against free trade are consistently interested in pointing out how capitalism runs counter to these ideals of natural freedom, and how capitalism must be kept in check in order to ensure those freedoms. So many forget that trade in and of itself is a moral value, consisting of quid pro quo, which religion and philosophy have taught as truth for centuries. Those who argue that the ethics of human rights overrule the principle of free trade, relegate one moral behind the others. Unfortunately, such is the position we find ourselves in at this time.
A Lack of Trust
Trust is the concept entirely lacking in the debate. This essay seeks to display how trust in government, and not in the governed, is what keeps the world from becoming a more peaceful place.
The belief in the individual and the individual’s propensity for doing good has been shrugged off as wishful thinking. Many follow a Hobbesian approach, thinking instead that mankind’s existence as a whole is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” To overgeneralize not being among the least of sins, such an approach (while convenient) is not called for. We must look to and trust the individual, inasmuch as at an individual level, the process toward peaceful civilized behavior begins.
How far is the individual to be trusted? Gibbon stated emphatically in his Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire that “History is little more than the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind,” showing that the preponderance of evidence points towards a probative attitude towards the governed. Still, such estimations defraud the individual, propagating injustice, malice and contention. Among societies that value equality, who is being dealt with equity? The answer lies within the definition of trust.
Peaceful, Civilized Behavior
The idea of the social contract (postulated by both Hobbes and Locke) involves giving up some rights for the protection of others. These forfeited rights act as the trust (consent) of the governed in (to) their government. Locke described the fundamental rights of “life, liberty, and estate” as those worthy of being protected. Inherent and intrinsic in that protection is the government trusting the individual. It is the individual’s life, the individual’s liberty, and the individual’s estate that is necessarily protected. Any incursion of governmental authority is justified when it involves protecting these three quintessential rights. Historically, the government’s trust in the individual’s judgment of what is best for their estate and how to increase their property has been diminishing. Government regulates, taxes, monitors and decides. Government is set at odds with the individual, creating distrust between the protected and the protector. This dissociation destroys peace by creating sides instead of a cooperative.
Whereas peaceful nature is hindered in the situation by a lack of trust, it follows that even civilized behavior has a difficult time flourishing in such an environment. In a society where trade choices are limited by criteria, statute and excessive taxation, the breathing organism of civilization is anesthetized into a stillborn idea. Entrepreneurship and foreign investment in countries with higher taxation and regulation for social programs is consistently dismal. Civilization progresses under the auspices of commerce. Oxford’s English Dictionary defines civilize as “to bring out of a less developed stage of society.” Again, the idea of economic increase here is applicable. Mistrust of individual commerce has led to the regulation of it, creating punishment for personal proactivity and development. Such regress stands opposed to the idea of civilization.
Peaceful, Civilized Behavior II
While we have discussed how loss of rights to free economic intercourse creates discord in the social contract, and regression in civilization, we have yet to examine how the exposition of those rights encourages peaceful, civilized behavior.
First, to civilize. Using Oxford’s definition, we are led to believe that in whatever free trade must do to accomplish the purpose of civilizing, it must “bring [the individual] out of a less developed stage.” The individual is in a less developed stage when they begin the process of increasing their estate. Actions such as investing, consuming, and selling enhance the development of the individual. He learns practical application of mathematics, history and trends, and even social psychology. The individual is able to recognize and overcome problems because commerce has made him a problem solver. Commerce has brought him out of a less developed stage. To civilize is not to imbue the individual with civil rights. Rather, it is to broaden and deepen his understanding of society and motivation to do good. Civilization is elevation. By eliminating barriers to investing, consuming and selling extant because of taxation, the individual is given the opportunity to finally make good of that which nature has already blessed him.
Peace is established when set specific duties are competently performed. When those who govern have the best interests of the individual’s fundamental rights in mind, and work to protect them, government earns the trust (consent) of the governed. Revolts brought on by taxation have been justified, only when the government being protested has infringed upon the basic liberties afforded the individual by nature.
Is peace relative? Free trade is not about to bring world peace, even at its most liberated. Instead, free economic intercourse between individuals, is by its nature, peaceful. The Spanish word for business, negócios, denotes the peaceful exchange inherent in the action. While some would like to point out the similarities between business and warfare, less polemic etymologies exist:
- Economy – Greek origin, originally household management
- Trade – English origin, German equivalent is Handel, implying the hand
Of note is the idea of trade involving the hand, and the peaceful nature inherent in the extension of it in Western culture.
Universal, Peaceful Order
Final consideration must be paid to the idea of a peaceful universal order in connection with the virtues of free trade. Of all the ideas discarded as naïve by current generations, the concept of a peaceful universal order is the most out of reach. To call such a belief intuitive is not enough; it is revolutionary.
In the same way that peaceful, civilized behavior could only be promoted by the development of mutual trust between government and the governed, a unifying, universal peaceful order of the world would necessitate a deeper human value than trust. Such an endeavor would require understanding. While free trade deepens the personality, and enhances the human experience, it cannot provide understanding. Understanding requires a human relationship between the individual and other individuals that free trade alone does not offer.