Thursday, February 23, 2006

Right-Thinking is not Right- or Leftwing

Quoted by Alex Singleton of The Globalisation Institute ( from an article by Andrew Mitchell, MP in Platform at (

Think of the poorest person you have ever seen, Gandhi would say, and ask if your next act will be of any use to him. Will stopping poor people from trading with each other help them? No. Will stopping them voluntarily exchange goods and services with people in rich countries help them? Of course not.

Poor people should be free to trade with each other, and they should be free to buy and sell from us in the West. As long as the exchange is voluntary, no trade will take place unless both parties benefit from it. That is the beauty of trade: it is not a zero-sum game, in which one party must win at the expense of the other. Would anyone seriously suggest imposing tariffs or quotas between, say Surrey and Sussex? Or Manchester and Liverpool?

What eminent good sense this is!

Yet, The Globalisation Institute is described by Hugo Rifkind (The Times) as “a right-on, right-leaning think-tank on world poverty” (February 21, 2006),,2-2049850,00.html

I don’t know about ‘right-leaning’, but I would have called it a ‘right-thinking think-tank’ for the very high standard of what it reports and implicitly advocates. I should hope that ‘left-thinking’ sympathisers of the poor trapped by both domestic (insane) protectionism of their rulers against other poor neighbours and the pathetic protectionism of rich farmers and manufacturers against them in the West, would endorse most of what Alex Singleton’s team support.

The issue is not that all forms of protectionism should be abolished immediately – Adam Smith advised that free trade be established gradually to avoid the burden being felt in one go by those who benefit from it continuing – but what steps are to be taken over what time period to bring it, and its benefits, is a matter for the use of good sense, not ideology.

Where the people affected directly are a small minority and the proportion of annual output they account for is also small, the rest of the community can assist them to adjust to a relatively short timetable. This would be cheaper, make more sense and do more good, that sending tens of millions in so-called aid to political regimes who are a contributory cause of the very poverty their fellow-citizens, not them, endure unnecessarily.


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