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Fish in the Sea

Opponents of free-trade like to make claims that, “it is just too hard for people to retrain and adjust to losing jobs” when we allow free trade. I want to comment on a metaphysical aspect of this, not an economic one (though I imagine some of you would like me to point out the basic economic problem with such thinking).

Suppose we concede that point to trade opponents. Let us ask what is unique about taking this position on trade? I suspect many people have no problem with having “open borders” when it comes to marriage and dating. But why would not oppose free-trade in spouses too? After all, if a young woman from the US meets and marries a smart guy from Japan, this means that “we have lost” one potential mate for an American male. Is this tragic? Should we outlaw it? Should we institute “marriage adjustment assistance” for the man who now finds himself out of a relationship (to dramatize it, suppose he was dumped by our American women expressly to marry the Japanese man).

After all, think of the emotional devastation the loss of a relationship imposes on people. Think of how hard it is to meet new people, find some with compatible interests, find one that wants what you want, and having to go through the entire awkward (and perhaps  expensive) process of learning about her and teaching her about you, and all of the things that go into building a relationship. I would argue that these are far more serious costs imposed on people than the loss of a job, even of a very good job. After all, if you are willing to capitalize on the basic skills you have, there is virtually an unlimited number of things you could do in the labor market to at least earn enough to feed, clothe and house oneself. You can do it almost anonymously and probably with one-hundreth the effort it would take to find a new mate.

Again, I emphasize that I am not talking about the economics of trade here, rather I am asking a question about logical consistency. And if one does not get all worked up about free-trade in spouses, why is it that free-trade in goods is special? After all, I have heard for years about how crass materialism corrupts us and that we need to appreciate the deeper things in life – … like spouses. Are there other examples you can think of? As per the title of the post, my prediction is that if you asked a layperson if they were worried about free trade in spouses causing distress, I bet their answer would look like, “well, there are lots of other fish in the sea,” which resembles the argument that free traders like to make, even if it wholly avoids the human side of the debate (which again, is something free traders should emphasize not shy away from, but that’s for another post).

5 Responses to “Fish in the Sea”

  1. Ideas. We should ban furriners from our scientific conferences and universities, student and professor alike.

  2. sherlock says:

    I’d have to say exploring and learning about other cultures. No one complains if you take a seminar, go on a trip, or buy a book to “expand your horizons”. “Oh, so you’re going to India to learn about yoga? Well, screw you!” Learning about and enveloping yourself in a whole other culture is extremely costly and there is a lot of emotional distress when you realize you don’t fit in to your present culture. So why don’t we just ban the foreign viewpoints from competing with the domestic ones?

  3. RIT_Rich says:

    In my opinion, the answer is that people see things like trade between “countries” in a special light separate from the rest of reality and life. I’m not exaggerating; at the basic level, its tribalism.

    I’ve had this conversation recently with people from my country, after some numskull politicians decided to “ban” trade with the neighboring county (typical Balkan BS). While some were willing to agree that it would “hurt some people”, in the end “everyone” supported it for three reasons:
    1) There were those who supported it because we “stuck it to those guys!”
    2) there were those who were genuinely ignorant to understand the economic consequences of it, and thought “it’ll help businesses here!”.
    3) You had the typical statists who defended the action by saying “the gov. job is to protect…its companies…from competition”.

    Some even came up with an alternate universe of facts to show how “hiring and business activity have gone up since we banned trade!” (all made up, since the ban had only been in effect for a few weeks, and is now lifted)

    But in the end, it came down to primitive tribe mentality: us vs them. Now agreed, the people over there are far less sophisticated and far more primitive in their mentality and understanding of the world than most Americans. But is it anything deeper than simply tribalism? And…can logic really trump tribalism?

  4. We used to ban the importation of spouses, more recently than most imagine. It used to be illegal to marry outside your own race. Until 1948, only 11 states allowed “free trade” in marriage, and until 1967 it was still illegal in about half of the country.

    Hopefully, in the future people will look back on discussions of financial free-trade as quaintly as we now look on the open borders in spousal selection.

  5. Rod says:

    Give a man a mail-order bride from Russia and he will be married for a month or less after the bride attains citizenship, tops.

    Teach a man to fish for a bride and he will join eHarmony.com or some other web dating service and he will fish for as long as he can before he is eventually hooked.

    Teach a man to fish and he will go to Cabelas, buy thousands of dollars worth of fishing equipment, buy a boat, spend thousands on guides and fishing lodges and make himself scarce as possible from the opposite sex, unless that woman likes to fish also, in which case he will marry her and buy a double sleeping bag and a good air mattress.

    There are plenty of fish in the sea, but some nations fish so much that they deplete stocks of desirable, edible fish like Atlantic Cod and bluefin tuna. Consequently, most nations stake a claim on 200 miles of territorial waters. And countries like ours distribute quotas to fishermen and declare certain areas off-limits for everyone, including recreational fishermen like me. At the same time, they allow mid-water herring trawlers to fish the bejesus out of some of these restricted areas, killing everything in their nets including a bycatch of cod, pollock, hake and haddock.

    Last Friday, by the way, my son, Ian, and I did our part to deplete the cod, haddock and pollock in the Gulf of Maine. We came home with three coolers full of fish fillets which we will either eat or trade for venison. Fillet and release!

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