There are times when I wonder if MPAI truly is a reasonable philosophy for preparing oneself for the quotidian burden of dealing with others. And then I read something like this pathetic handwaving on the part of Gary North, which purports to be a defense of free trade in response to my suggestion that there may be an Austrian case against free trade:
Here is the inescapable reality: if you do not understand the argument, you probably will not understand the refutation. You will not really know if the refutation effectively refutes the original argument. You are not really concerned about the logic of the argument. You are concerned about the fact that somebody you have never heard of thinks you are wrong, but you do not know why you are wrong. So, you want to find somebody you trust who will prove to you, merely by saying “this argument is wrong,” that this argument is wrong. This is a lose-lose position. You lose because you do not understand the original argument, and you lose because you do not understand the refutation either. It is best to ignore the argument. Anyway, it certainly is cheaper.
My subscriber had come across a website. The site is a blog. I had never heard of the individual who runs it. I looked him up. He has written a book on the coming depression. He has written another book on an unrelated topic. He has not written anything in book form on economic theory. He does not have an academic position anywhere. His academic background is limited to a bachelor’s degree in economics. College courses in economics are Keynesian. A person needs follow-up work in economics to equip himself in the field.
There is an old rule: “You cannot change just one thing.” There is a rule of economics: “If you claim to make a breakthrough in a narrow area of economics, this is going to force you to re-think almost everything else in economics.” It is not good enough to tell everybody that you have refuted the fundamental doctrine of modern free-market economics: the doctrine of free trade. You also must show that you have restructured all of economic theory in terms of your revolutionary breakthrough: discovering why sales taxes on imported goods make society richer. The site’s editor has not done this. I will go further than this: he has his work cut out for him.
I’ll do my usual number on North’s post either tomorrow or later today, but it reminds me of my disappointment when Thomas Sowell feebly attempted to defend Michelle Malkin’s shoddy and ludicrously ignorant defense of internment even after I pointed out her easily confirmed factual errors. If I ever get so intellectually calcified and unable to respond substantively to material arguments, I hope I have sufficient self-respect to give up writing commentary and find some other means of entertaining myself.
Anyhow, before I begin writing my critique of his response, I’m curious to know how many of you, free traders or not, genuinely find this response to be a convincing one. North isn’t an idiot, and while I’ve never been a particular fan of his, my father and brother are, and I’ve read enough of his pieces in the past to know that whatever this is, it is not his fastball. So, has he lost it, is he phoning it in, or am I simply missing his subtle brilliance in methodically demolishing the case against free trade?
I’m not in the least bit put out that North hasn’t heard of me. I tend to doubt he was a big Wax Trax! aficionado. But even if he had, what, I wonder, would that have to do with the net effect of free trade on the US economy?