Mr. Sanders:

In last-night’s debate you said: “I was on a picket line in the early 1990s against Nafta, because you didn’t need a Ph.D. in economics to understand that American workers should not be forced to compete against people in Mexico making 25 cents an hour.”

I’m told that you’re a principled man who sincerely cares about the poor and that you object to rigging the economy in favor of the rich. If what I’m told is true, then surely you misspoke – grievously so – last night. Surely your principled compassion for the poor leads you to support, rather than oppose, greater economic opportunity for destitute Mexicans even if that opportunity means more intense competition for some American workers. The poorest American workers, after all, are far wealthier than are the Mexicans against whom they compete. Therefore, given your principles and compassion, you cannot possibly really support what your (no doubt carelessly worded) claim suggests you support – namely, government-imposed tariffs and other trade barriers that rig the economic system to benefit the ‘haves’ (that is, American workers) at the expense of the ‘have nots’ (that is, Mexican workers).

I’m further led to conclude that you misspoke yesterday because a failure to lower government-imposed trade barriers would also have continued to shield corporations from competition and, in the process, continued to bloat their profits. With your reputation for staunch opposition to corporate privilege, you undoubtedly understand that the K Street model of trade barriers is a complete fraud. And you fiercely oppose such fraud.

Finally, a man of your reputed economic insight also must understand that, while today free trade destroys some jobs, it also, today, lowers prices for consumers and, tomorrow, creates new and better jobs in place of those that have been destroyed. I cannot doubt, given your reputation for having carefully studied economic history, that you celebrate the reality that the greatest beneficiaries of liberalized trade are always the poorest people in every country that has liberalized trade.

We all know how easy it is to misspeak in the heat of the moment. But I urge you to publicly and quickly correct your claim. Your failure to do so would supply reasonable grounds for skeptics of your magnanimity and economic knowledge to accuse you of being simply another crony who, without shame, helps to rig the economic system in favor of those who have and against those who have not.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center

Originally posted on CafeHayek on March 7th, 2016