Free Trade and the International Union

Fred Harrison

[A statement to the global Georgist community, 28 February, 2005]

If you are a consistent Georgist, you have to exlain your advocacy of "fair" trade as "free trade with LVT" -- so what's the problem with advocating free trade and making it clear that the achievement of this (like so much else) is contingent on LVT at the rate of 100%?

Ours is a holistic transformation of the system. We will not succeed, by cherrypicking the bits of the puzzle that happen to suit us, opportunistically -- as a means of pulling the wool over people's eyes.

Freedom of the individual is treated as suspect: socialists, and variants thereof, link that notion to laissez faire. Do we eschew advocacy of individualism because others might (choose to) misunderstand what you mean by it? I don't think so.

Free trade is one form of freedom of the individual. When I exchange goods at my streetcorner market, I am engaging in free trade. Ditto between countries. If the results are imperfect, we must identify them - not remain silent about them.

In fact, by remaining silent on free trade, we abandon a powerful argument in favour of 100% LVT. Why weaken our advocacy of Georgist fiscal policy by wilfully ignoring one of the major reasons why we MUST have it -- to secure freedom of the individual, and of his/her community, and nation?

Opponents can smell out the weaknesses in the opposition's case. So we won't get away with remaining silent on free trade. All we do is concede the cause of freedom to those who, not understanding the preconditions for freedom, are allowed to promote their version of "fair trade". By default (on our part) this enables them to promote their imperfect version of freedom ... which, if they are successful, we then have to try and unpick; setting back the freedom agenda by yet more years/obstacles. Why take this protracted, circuitous route to explaining free trade -- i.e., why leave the trade issue to others, which then becomes yet another battleground for us to fight on?

One of the big global debates is about the terms of trade. Globalisation - that's what it's all about: the ability to trade even more freely in integrated markets. Instead of ducking the issue, we should advocate free trade - and explain why

(i) "fair" trade damages those who need free access to global markets shorn of the monopolistic encumbrances that now exist; and

(ii) those who advocate fair trade would achieve their goals by advocating LVT/free trade.

I accept that the case I am advocating is for the maximalist reform -- i.e., the Georgist agenda (100% LVT).

I understand that the advocates of the minimalist fiscal reform might just as well not bother with the free trade issue; after all, they are not advocating the Georgist agenda, so why confuse their position with the case for freedom?

But Georgists have no choice but to campaign for freedom - the essential precondition for which is equal access to the net gains from the efficient use of land; and free trade is one of the preconditions for maximising those net gains.

If we concede the trade issue to others, we do not escape the obligation to then attack the "fair trade" platform as creating a new permutation of disadvantages for millions of people who are excluded from the "fair" elements of trade.

"Fair trade" is emotive rhetoric against the big corporations. That emotion is not going to deliver policies based on clarity of thought and principled reforms. Georgists have to get their fighting tackle in order - and that does not mean perverting language (and minds) even further.

There is no reason why anyone cannot campaign for a variant of land taxation sans free trade. But that means they need to do so via non-Georgist organisations. The IU is a dedicated Georgist organisation, so there is no question (in my mind, at any rate) of pulling our punches on free trade.

If there is a problem with selling LVT, it is that we have failed to convey the full flavour of the philosophy: i.e., too many of us have retreated to the minimalist case. If we need to engineer changes in our promotional efforts, that needs to be back in favour of the Georgist paradigm: which, in slogan terms, is -- Free Land, Free Trade, Free People.