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Saturday, 2 September 2017

Doctor Fox and Free Trade

A former medical practitioner, Liam Fox PC MP, the Secretary of State for Trade, is chafing at the bit He cannot begin any substantial work towards the task that he has supposedly been given - to arrange post-Brexit trade agreements with countries outside the European Union - until it is finally decided to what extent [if any] the United Kingdom will remain in the European Economic Area after 2020. It is beginning to dawn on Mrs May that a 'hard Brexit' will be calamitous for the British economy. Far from enabling the country to hold its head high among the major powers, solitary Britain would be seen for what it is: an ill-managed struggling economy with more legacy issues than thriving new world-class companies, with a huge and growing balance-of-payments deficit and massive external indebtedness.

Nevertheless, Dr Fox is apparently buoyed-up by the dogma that free trade is a universal 'good thing'; because that is what members of the Econocracy tell him. The professors who can no longer con their more intelligent students still hold sway with the headbanging Brexiteers who seem to control the present government; partly because the sorts of things that they say make the current policy ['no deal is better than a bad deal'] seem almost rational.

In the ever-narrowing intellectual universe that the professors inhabit, inconvenient facts can simply be ignored. So they chose not to notice that the eighteenth century, when Britain pursued protectionist policies, was a period of high economic growth during which the agricultural and industrial revolutions were accomplished. The period when so-called free trade was at its peak, 1848-1914, was the age of imperialism, when European monarchies led by Britain with its globally dominant navy and Russia with its serf army conquered all of northern Asia. The European empires controlled the world, with the exception of the United States.

For every free trade agreement that now exists between countries there are hundreds of inhibitions on free trade. Smoking, alcohol and mind-changing drugs are to varying degrees controlled by law, penal taxation and religious interdiction. Health and safety laws can easily be used to control imports when a government agency chooses to use such rules to restrain some trades. 'Free trade' in sex is increasingly subject to controls and bans. Point protectionism remains a powerful tool of government, when a country slaps a tax on a competitively-priced import on the grounds that the import is too disruptive to the market for competing products made in the country concerned.

Free trade is, and always was, a fantasy; and the more democratic a country may be - in the sense that the government has to respond the the demands of statistically-important minorities of its citizens - the less chance there is of that country implementing free trade arrangements that can do damage to the economic interests of such minorities. This, and no 'ideal' of free trade preached by Econocratic professors, is the reality of the trading world; and always will remain so.

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