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Gary M. Galles - Contributor

Mr. Galles is a professor of econmics at Pepperdine University. [go to Galles index]

Remembering the Apostle of Free Trade
on Richard Cobden...
[Gary M. Galles] 6/3/04

June 3 is the bicentennial of the birth of Richard Cobden, known as “the Apostle of Free Trade.” He was the person who spearheaded the campaign against the protectionist English Corn Laws, leading to their repeal in 1846, which then spread to liberalized trade through much of Europe. His role was so pivotal that it has been said the free market owes its existence to him.

Cobden saw that free trade was the key to material prosperity. But more than prosperity, he emphasized the moral superiority of free trade over the injustice of protectionism, by which one group used government power to harm others. He also saw free trade, which comprises only voluntary arrangements, as the basis of peace. And, in fact, that period of liberalized trade was one of the most peaceful periods in history.

Author Jim Powell described that era’s connection between free trade and peace:

”Peace prevailed, in large part, because non-intervention became the hallmark of foreign policy...There was unprecedented freedom of movement for people, goods, and capital...Trade expanded, strengthening the stake that nations had in the continued prosperity of one another as customers and suppliers. While free trade was never a guarantee of peace, it reduced the danger of war more than any public policy ever had.”

In an era of occasional trade liberalization, seasoned with a great deal of protectionism for politically powerful groups, we can benefit from Richard Cobden's insights today as much as in the 19th century.

The progress of freedom depends more upon the maintenance of peace, the spread of trade, and the diffusion of education, than upon the labors of cabinets and foreign offices. from one man’s pocket, and allows him to compensate himself by taking an equivalent from another man’s pocket, and if that goes on in a circle through the whole community, it is only a clumsy process of robbing all to enrich none, and simply has this effect, that it ties up the hands of industry in all directions.

Holding one of the principles of eternal justice to be the inalienable right of every man freely to exchange the result of his labor for the productions of other people, and maintaining the practice of protecting one part of the community at the expense of all other classes to be unsound and unjustifiable...carry out to the fullest extent...the true and peaceful principles of Free Trade, by removing all existing obstacles to the unrestricted employment of industry and capital.

Free trade is a principle which recognizes the paramount importance of individual action.

Peace will come to earth when the people have more to do with each other and governments less.

[We] advocated Free Trade, not merely on account of the material wealth which it would bring to the community, but for the far loftier motive of securing permanent peace between nations.

...our principle...would bring peace and harmony among the nations.

I see in the Free-Trade principle that which shall act on the moral world as the principle of gravitation in the universe, drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace...when man becomes one family, and freely exchanges the fruits of one's labor with his brother man...the speculative philosopher of a thousand years hence will date the greatest revolution that ever happened in the world's history from the triumph of the principle...

Richard Cobden knew that the heart of free trade was freedom; freedom that produced justice by preventing government sponsored theft by one group from others. He knew that free trade broke down the powers of privilege and barriers that hindered the economic progress of vast numbers of people, and replaced them with a system of mutually beneficial relations among participants. In a world still far from such an ideal, we should remember that wisdom from “the Apostle of Free Trade." CRO

copyright 2004 Gary M. Galles




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