Commentary on Free Trade in the Americas

The media freak show that started a couple of weeks ago around the Summit of the Americas has finally ended. It is hard to remember another event in recent Canadian history where so much airtime was given to opponents of the market economy.

We heard that free trade:

  • destroys the environment;
  • that it is racist and sexist;
  • that it will rob us of our culture;
  • that it only benefits the rich and multinationals.

All this is patently false, but during the frenzy of the Summit, it is those who made these claims who were in the limelight.

Thus, the public was almost never exposed to the following facts:

  • Statistically, openness to external trade is not, per se, a cause of increased inequalities;
  • Historically, open societies such as Venice and Holland also happened to be the most flourishing in terms of art and culture;
  • Economic freedom, as measured by the Economic Freedom of the World Annual Report, and human development, as measured by the United Nations, go hand in hand. Actually, economic freedom is negatively correlated with poverty. In other words, more freedom equals less poverty.

These facts, and others, are exposed in more details on the Montreal Economic Institute Web site.

One of the prominent rabble rousers, before and during the Summit, was French farmer José Bové.

His rhetoric is thick with economic fallacies and is essentially an emotional appeal to nostalgic values in defence of protectionist policies.

Bové also denounces efficient farming methods. However, these are needed to feed modern societies huge populations. Going back to traditional farming would also lead to ecological disasters since the older methods require more land to produce the same amount of food. Entire forest would have to be cut down to reach the production levels required to feed today’s world population.

But why are the media still glamorizing people who advocate policies that would have such horrific consequences? It may be because they are blinded by the values of equality and compassion professed by these radicals.

But good sentiments are no substitute for a rational understanding of economic concepts and history.

Now that the show is over, let’s hope more media attention will be paid to these.

For Commentary, I’m Michel Kelly-Gagnon in Montreal.


Michel Kelly-Gagnon is President of the MEI.

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