Don't assume free trade really means free: A response to critics of the Miami FTAA protesters.

By Salon Staff
Published December 3, 2003 8:35PM (EST)

[Read the letters and the original dispatches from Miami.]

The letters in response to your series on FTAA/Miami reveal a dismaying mixture of mythology and jingoism:

"Look, everyone knows that trade helps economies grow."

"It's [the right to sell] a freedom and shouldn't be infringed without a compelling reason."

"Assume free trade."

A "free" market requires enough buyers and sellers to make a market and enough symmetry among the participants to ensure the ability to deal or not. Isn't it curious that the absence of norms -- whether regulation or culture -- wrecks a market? Think California, energy and "free market." Or SEC, or S&L, or Boeing, or the energy bill. Enough?

Nor is there anything "free" -- in the sense of liberties that cannot be infringed -- in a "free market." The only thing that is free is the unfettered right to maximize return. No amount of waste and poison matter as long as they are off the books. If an industry can pump poison into the ground outside the United States, that is just part of its free market advantage.

And then there is growth. But hey, the world is limitless, isn't it?

-- Chris Miller

Salon Staff

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