Freedom of Trade, Not “Fast Track”

Red and black balloons on sign that reads Vote No TPP Fast Track

Obama and the Congress are presently fighting over whether to give the President “fast track” authority in negotiating trade agreements.

The debate over “fast track” authority is a debate over methodology. Whether individuals have a right to free trade is not being debated here. Yet freedom to trade is the only issue that matters.

For the most part, neither liberals nor conservatives appear to recognize the importance of free trade as an individual right. Unions opposing Obama worry that giving him — or any other president — the fast track authority to negotiate trade will jeopardize the interests of unions. From a union leader’s point of view, unions have a few more individual rights than others.

Many Republicans don’t want to give Obama “fast track” authority, either. They believe, undoubtedly correctly, that whatever motivates Obama to have this authority, it does not have anything to do with free trade. If he doesn’t favor the freedom of trade for citizens at home — in health care, in education, on the Internet — then why would he wish to use his power to advance freedom of trade with other companies abroad? Obama always has an agenda, and it’s always socialist or Marxist in nature.

As usual, you hear (from both sides) the stale and tired old arguments in favor of a “level playing field.” Who can argue with a level playing field? It’s a sports analogy, something most people will understand. It would be unfair and unreasonable — to both teams — to have an unlevel playing field. The outcome would be effectively rigged, and even the winners of the game would have doubt cast upon them if they benefited from the non-level field.

This analogy has nothing whatsoever to do with the protection of individual rights. Human beings have an inalienable right to trade with another. If a union or even an unorganized group of workers in Milwaukee or San Diego or Seattle or New Orleans is displeased with the fact that an American citizen makes a business deal, or hires long-distance workers, then that’s of no concern to the government. The government should not be picking winners or losers — not union members, not wealthy business persons with government pull, not anyone.

The only way to properly “level” a playing field is to protect the individual rights of everyone equally. With equal individual rights, some will succeed at business, and some will fail. Some will succeed more than others. This fact has no bearing on the principle that rights apply equally, across the board, for all. The concept of “inalienable individual rights” was not, and should not be, conditional. You don’t have greater rights the moment you discover that you’re less capable or successful than somebody else; or the moment you realize you can attain some pull with a member of Congress, or a President, who never should have such authority — “fast track” or otherwise — in the first place.

“Fast track authority” is a misleading and pernicious concept. Why? Because it encourages us to evade the fact that the only proper authority of a government is to protect the right of all individuals to trade with others, equally. It leads us into a non-debate of methodology over and above the principle the methodology was supposed to protect.

I sympathize with conservatives, Republicans, libertarians and others who feel  that putting Obama (or his probable successor, Hillary Clinton) in charge of “free trade” is like putting the proverbial fox in charge of the hen house, to say the least. But we should not be distracted from the real issue: How to open up and protect freedom of trade, not just for American citizens with other nations, but freedom of trade among American citizens within our own nation. Members of unions have no moral or political “right” to be protected from competition, any more than some white collar, wealthy business owner with political pull has any “right” to be protected from competition. In this respect, both sides are wrong. The right to trade is an equal individual right, and that’s supposed to be the end of the story.

“This vote’s about doing what’s right for the country,” Republican Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner is saying. “It’s about China out there writing the rules for the global economy, and if we stay on the sidelines, our allies will gravitate back towards China, away from us, and away from our workers.”

China is a fascist, government-controlled economy. It’s easy to agree that the United States — only a semi-free economy itself, but freer than China’s — should not be placed at the mercy of China. But don’t American citizens and business owners have a right to decide for themselves whether, or in what way, to do business with people in China? Granted, anyone who does so takes on a certain amount of risk, because by doing “business” with someone in China, you’re in effect doing business with the government, at least indirectly. But that’s not so different than the United States, in many respects, since the government has so much sway and authority over how businesses operate here.

Maybe if we freed up our economy in the direction that politicians like Boehner claim they wish to do, but never lift a finger to attempt, there might not be such a temptation or perceived need to do business with people in China. If the United States became a hands-off capitalist society, then China and others, to compete, would have to move in that direction as well.

The point is: Leave this up to the citizens. While Boehner might have a case for arguing against Obama’s particular bill, he is not making the case for freedom of trade, not when he talks about “rules for a global economy.” What global economy? Most economies of the world are either totalitarian (Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela) or heavily run by the government (China, Russia). America is historically the freest economy on earth, and despite all the restraints heaped upon it, still is, in many ways, today. We shouldn’t be looking to establish global rules; we should be seeking to protect individual rights, starting in the U.S., and hoping to encourage other nations to do the same, leading by example.

Freedom of trade is an individual, fundamental right. At root, human beings are sovereign over their own minds, bodies and destinies. Being free to trade — locally or internationally — means the freedom to use your mind, judgment and your own authority to make determinations that best suit your interests. Just as you’re free to exercise this right, you also have to face and accept the consequences.

“Protection” from government was supposed to mean a protection of individual rights, and only individual rights. Instead, our two warring parties seek to protect the economic interests of some partisans over others. It’s no defense of freedom; it’s merely a war of all against all.


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