Economics, Rights Theory

Justice at a Distance

I have not been blogging lately because I’ve been working with Loren Lomasky on a book about global justice.  Its provisional title is Justice at a Distance. Here are the main ideas of the book.

1) Our main duty toward distant others is a duty of noninterference with their personal projects.  This is a global extension of Loren’s seminal treatment. Drawing on the institutionalist literature on development (LandesNorthDe SotoAcemoglu-Robinson), we claim that the world’s poor are wronged, not because of insufficient aid from rich countries, but because political structures stand in the way of their flourishing.  The poor suffer from violation of moral rights by their own governments (violation of civil liberties, weak property rights, protectionist policies, corruption), and also from the obstacles placed by rich countries to the full participation of the poor in the world’s economy (examples are the European Common Agricultural Policy and the U.S. Farm Bill).   The first task of global justice, therefore, is to lift these obstacles, that is, to liberalize political and economic markets. Our approach radically departs from the mainstream literature on global justice represented by Thomas Pogge, Peter Singer, and others. These authors (with important differences among them) think that international institutions should embody a version of the redistributive state writ large –a massive global redistributive agency.

2) Our position is cosmopolitan: everyone has the duty not to interfere with personal projects. Persons have moral rights that correspond to those duties of noninterference. A legitimate state is one that respects these moral rights. No actual state meets this test, so no actual state is morally legitimate. However, some states have better institutions than others. Good institutions in general allow persons to pursue their personal projects; bad institutions prevent this. A morally defensible foreign policy should promote good institutions and discourage bad institutions abroad. The concept of legitimacy, therefore, is not very helpful, because it is bivalent: either a state is legitimate or it isn’t.  We adopt instead a more modest, gradualist approach: we suspect that no state is really legitimate (since not even the better states fully respect the moral rights of individuals) but we recognize that some institutions are better than others (measured by the amount of political and economic freedom they encourage and protect). Here again, our project is revisionist, because global justice philosophers and international lawyers assume the legitimacy of the (properly qualified) modern state.

3) Common sense morality condemns the immigration restrictions that states presently impose. We examine the usual arguments in support of those restrictions and find them wanting for standard libertarian reasons.

4) War is justified only in defense of persons (not in defense of territory, or sovereignty as such, even less to further prestige or national interest.) Some wars are, therefore, justified: defensive wars and (in extreme cases) wars to save others (humanitarian intervention.) We condemn the military draft, we defend the use of mercenaries, and we develop a novel understanding of the doctrine of double effect as applied to justified wars.

5) We discuss a number of related issues that I cannot develop in a limited space. Among them: the injustice of trade barriers, the defense of the brain drain, and, at a more theoretical level,  the inconsistency between liberal-egalitarian theories of domestic justice and liberal-egalitarian theories of global justice. This last point is important. Theories of justice focus on the modern liberal state. With some variations, they recommend arrangements that benefit, or take centrally into account, the worst-off in society. However, almost by definition such domestic political arrangements will hurt the distant poor. This is a problem that liberal egalitarians have been unable to solve except at a prohibitive theoretical or practical cost. Our approach is unaffected by this problem.

That’s the gist of it.  Comments are welcome.


  • Cristian Dimitriu


    “The poor suffer from violation of rights by their
    own governments (violation of civil
    liberties, weak property rights, protectionist policies, corruption), and also
    from the obstacles placed by rich countries to the full participation of the
    poor in the world’s economy (examples are the European Common Agricultural
    Policy and the U.S. Farm Bill)”

    I do not see why poor countries have the right to trade with wealthy ones, as the
    quoted paragraph suggests. Consider an analogy between individuals. A beggar
    wants to sell a rose to a rich person. Is the rich person violating the rights
    of the beggar if he does not buy the rose? I do not think so. The rich person
    may be at fault if he is not contributing to general fair background
    conditions, or if he is harming the beggar in an obvious way. But simply failing to trade should not be considered
    a violation of a right, for the mere reason that nobody has the duty to trade
    with someone else in the first place.



    • Fernando Teson

      Cristian: Protectionist barriers coercively prevent persons from trading across borders. Of course no one has a right to trade with anyone else, but governments actually prevent willing individual buyers to buy foreign products. An Argentine ribeye steak, which is way better than its American counterpart and less than 1/3 the price, cannot find its way to my supermarket counter. I don’t object to persons’ voluntarily refusing to buy foreign products (although I might think it stupid). What I object to is the government forcing them not to do so even if they want to.

      • greg byshenk

        If I am not mistaken, this claim is too strong. To the best of my knowledge, very few “protectionist barriers” are embargoes that actually stop trade; most are tariffs and the like that make products more expensive, but that isn’t the same thing.

        • 3cantuna

          You have a point, yet some trade is indeed stopped completely because some things are priced out of even being attempted.

          • greg byshenk

            Again, a tariff does not stop someone from trading. It may result in people choosing not to do so, but that is a different issue. All manner of in principle possible things are not actually done because the costs of doing so end up being impractical.

    • Bob Robertson

       “I do not see why poor countries have the right to trade with wealthy ones”

      Countries don’t have rights, individuals do. “Countries” place restrictions on the actions of individuals. An individual has a right to trade with someone else who wishes to do so. There is no violation of rights where the trade is done voluntarily.

      If two individuals wish to trade, what matters if they are in the next room, the next village, watershed or continent?

      A government can only interfere with such transactions, violating someone’s rights, impoverishing someone.

      • Cristian Dimitriu

         Yes, but notice that Teson claims that the rich countries are violating the rights of the individuals in poor countries by imposing trade obstacles. This claim assumes that rich countries have the moral obligation to buy products from individuals who are in other countries or, conversely, that individuals in other countries have the right that rich countries buy their products. If Teson did not rely on this assumption, he could not possibly talk about countries “violating the rights” of individuals as he does. This assumption however is mistaken, as no one has the duty to trade (i.e. to buy from) anyone else.

        • Damien S.

          Actually he just said the poor suffer from the obstacles, the explicit mention of rights violation applies to their own government.  That said, in the libertarian view such protectionism violates the rights of individuals in rich and poor countries to trade freely with each other.  No one’s *obliged* to buy from or sell to the poor country people, but they have a right to offer their goods without rich country governments going “nuh-uh!”, which right is violated by the trade barriers.  There’s no positive moral obligation implied, just an obligation to not interfere.

          • Cristian Dimitriu

             Imagine that the US decides to stop importing rare earths from China and starts importing rare earth from, say, Uganda. Would the US be violating the rights of individuals in China if it did this? I do not think so. The US can decide its own trading policy, and there is nothing wrong about it. So the right of individuals to trade with each other can be overriden by the “right” of a country to decide who to trade with. Teson was assuming that no such right exists, which is not really intuitive.

          • Damien S.

            If US individuals decided to import rare earths from Uganda, then no.  If the US government prevented US individuals from trading with China, then yes.  Unless one believes in a right for the government to set trade policy, but Fernando is one of the more resolutely libertarian bloggers on a libertarian blog so hey, he’s not going to believe that.  This seems an odd point on which to tilt at the local windmills, when the local zeitgeist includes doubt about about the right of government to even exist, let alone tax people to provide health care or education for its own citizens.

          • Cristian Dimitriu

            yes, I agree that Teson would not believe in the right for a government to set its own trade policy, which seems weird to me. I wonder if he would not believe either in the right of the state to set its own defense policy, property right enforcement policy, security policy, etc. He may not, but his position would be so radical that it would end up being implausible for almost everybody.

          • Damien S.

            You must be new around here…

  • Damien S.

    What about rich countries wronging poor countries through global pollution, or through extracting resources at unfavorable terms due to corruption, or through overthrowing elected governments?  The poor suffering rights violation by their own governments is partly because of our support for those rights-violating governments.  And do rich countries owe poor ones for past injustice more than simple future non-interference?

  • Cristian Dimitriu

    Fernando: You claim in the quoted paragraph that wealthy countries violate the rights of the poor countries when they enforce trading obstacles on them, but in your reply to my comment you seem to agree that no one has the right to trade with any one else. Are not these two statements contradictory? The way I see it is that a group of friends that decide to trade with each other can exclude people from, say, another neighborhood, and although they would be coercively  excluding these people from trade, they have the right to do so. It might not be  a smart thing to, but I do not see it would constitute a violation to their rights.

    • Ethan Pooley (furball4)

      Presumably the group of friends is agreeing to this restriction on a mutual, unanimous, voluntary basis. So they do have a right to trade with anyone they want, they are just choosing not to and they are doing so in a formal (and perhaps enforceable) manner.

      A state, on the other hand, cannot rest its justification on unanimity. It must identify some moral feature of the situation that would have allowed one of those friends to be included in the embargo against their will. If such a power can be shown to exist among the friends as individuals, then it could conceivably be delegated to the state.

  • Cristian Dimitriu

    Fernando: You claim in the quoted paragraph that wealthy countries violate the rights of the poor countries when they enforce trading obstacles on them, but in your reply to my comment you seem to agree that no one has the right to trade with any one else. Are not these two statements contradictory? The way I see it is that a group of friends that decide to trade with each other can exclude people from, say, another neighborhood; and although they would be coercively  excluding these people from trade, they have the right to do so. It might not be  a smart thing to do, but I do not see why it would constitute a violation to their rights.


  • Fernando, thanks for posting this! I’ve been hearing a lot about your book, and am grateful for the sneak peak.

    I’m wondering – could you elaborate a bit about the difference between your view and Pogge’s? It sound like you are in agreement with him at least on the claim that poor countries have suffered positive harm from the wealthy ones, and not merely passive neglect. But perhaps you disagree regarding the precise nature of those harms, or the proper means of remedying them? I’d be interested to hear more.

  • good_in_theory

    Why is a global redistributive state not compatible with global protection of non-interference in personal projects, outside of standard libertarian objections to taxation as interference in personal projects?

    What prevents one from championing both non-interference and redistribution via relatively higher tax rates on the world’s top 1%, top 10%, top 20%, or whatever?

    • 3cantuna

      Arguing over whether to have a redistributive state is like debating what size of hole in the bottom of a boat (carrying humanity) is most acceptable.  

      • good_in_theory

        Ok then, let me add to my qualification:

        “outside of standard libertarian objections to taxation”


        “outside of standard libertarian objections to redistribution”

        Don’t be boring.

  • Fernando, the question that enters my mind is whether your book considers the issue of money, how it affects international trade, how money enters (or should enter) the economy, when it needs to be taxed/regulated, how it is indispensable in modern trade, how it affects property rights, international relations, etc.

    Since the inception of the U.S. system of government, the U.S. has been a great incubator of monetary policy and theory, which I think most people (whether inside the U.S. or outside) take for granted today. 

    In fact, although I think big changes are coming, the success of U.S. monetary policy is so much taken for granted that the vast majority of people across the globe think that when they transact for goods and services, only two parties are involved, the buyer and seller.

    I’m curious because I see you mentioned DeSoto and I’m wondering to what extent his views affected yours.

    • 3cantuna

      The American system of ‘money’ is a great failure on cataclysmic proportions. Fiat currency and centralized fractional reserve banking is a deceptive form of theft and privilege, as well as the main instigator in what is known as the boom and bust cycle.

      The Fed, e.g., was a key player in bringing on the crash just before the Great Depression, and fueled the recent housing boom.

      • That’s why I said “big changes are coming.” Yes, the U.S. monetary system is in trouble right now, but the U.S. dollar is still the best thing around (assuming you need money to survive and haven’t figured out a way to live in the modern world without the use of money).

        Regarding the Great Depression, I see that as a transitional event, something that was necessary as we converted from a commodity-based monetary system to the fully-fiat income-tax-regulated one we have now.

        But the fact remains, only the U.S. has the ability to issue a fully public Treasury-Direct currency (but yes, you’re correct that the privately-issued debt-based currency issued by the Fed that we’re using now is failing).

      • Damien S.

        Funny how we had *more* boom and bust cycles with the gold standard and free banking (and decentralized fractional reserve banking.)  Once again your beliefs reflect dogma, not reality.
        Well-managed fiat money has been a great success, ‘failing’ only in having moderate inflation over time.

        • 3cantuna

          It is one thing when fractional reserve banking results in regional boom and bust cycles–which characterized much of pre-Fed activity;  to be more historically correct.  It is another when government privileged banking takes on a national and international role. The theft and boom and busts are bigger and even more inescapable. Boom and busts are not the result of commodity money but the cartelization combined with fractional reserve priveleges, all backed by government.

          • Damien S.

            Electronic banking would lead to one world region without any need for government.  And while the Fed may have exacerbated the Great Depression in the US, the Depression was, like the current crisis, a lot bigger than any one country or the policies of any government.

          • 3cantuna

            There was/is coordination and one-up-manship across state privileged central banks engaging in inflation via credit expansion and fractional reserve banking around the world.  Rothbard and others zeroed in on the communications between the Fed and Bank of England in the 1920s.  Fast forward, e.g.,  in the past two years or so– hundreds of thousands of people have lost there homes due to foreclosure in Spain, which also had a central bank instigated housing bust in 2008.

          • In many ways the U.S. is still a colony of the British Empire and its admiralty. The real Lockean philosophical roots of our Constitution have not yet been expressed, if indeed it is possible  for an admiralty legal system to operate in harmony with a common law system that supports personal property rights.

          • 3cantuna

            “Our” Constitution?

          • Yes, even if you’re in a foreign country, so long as you have access to a U.S.-incorporated bank, it’s yours too.

  • I’m not sure why a domestic welfare state necessarily hurts the global poor. Taking money from Mr. Moneybags and giving it to Mr. Moneypocket doesn’t take anything away from Mr. Malaria. Mr. Malaria probably deserves the money more, but since your preferred option is no welfare state at all that doesn’t seem relevant. You could say that wealth redistribution just hurts the overall economy, (I’d reject that empirical argument, but I can see how you’d make it) but that’s not an “almost by definition” argument. The empirical argument could plausibly go in the opposite direction if the relatively poor spend a higher percentage of their income on products produced in the third world.

    Liberals would probably be more consistent to make more in foreign aid and less in “domestic aid.” (Although there are a whole lot of more pragmatic arguments that a domestic welfare state has a role to play, or at least is the most liberal thing liberals can realistically achieve considering that foreign aid is very unpopular.) But that seems like kind of a strong argument to make even in just a thumbnail sketch.

    • Damien S.

      Foreign aid seems odd in popularity.  If you ask people if it should go up or down, they’ll say down.  If you ask them how much we should give in aid, they’ll name an order of magnitude or two more than we do give.  Like they think we spend 10% and should spend 1%, when we spend 0.1%…

      Hmm, the same is probably broadly true of welfare, i.e. people thinking we spend a lot more than we do.

  • djw

    While I’m sure there are many important differences, your central argument as described in point  (1) doesn’t sound like a radical departure from Pogge; at least insofar as Pogge has repeatedly argued that the central obligation of global justice is to stop harming others via the imposition of a world order that thwarts them. I’m sure your arguments and his will differ on a number of details, but your raising the CAP and US farm subsidies are quite consistent with his argument.

    Of course, Pogge’s written a ton of stuff and I haven’t read most of it, so maybe you’re referring to other work. But essays like his contribution to Chatterjee’s edited volume and his 2005 Ethics and International Affairs piece are making an argument that to my ear is at least superficially similar to what you’re planning to argue.

    • djw

      Er, I should read the comments first. Same question as Matt Z.

    • djw

      Also: speaking as someone who will almost surely strongly disagree with at least 50% of it, this sounds fantastic. Lomasky’s book is probably my favorite libertarian work of political theory (with the possible exception of Schmidtz’ Elements of Justice, if that counts as libertarian), and I’ve occasionally thought it would be interesting and fruitful foundation for thinking about global justice. Any sense of when we can expect to see this?

  • CFV

    “at a more theoretical level,  the inconsistency between liberal-egalitarian theories of domestic justice and liberal-egalitarian theories of global
    justice. This last point is important. Theories of justice focus on the
    modern liberal state. With some variations, they recommend arrangements
    that benefit, or take centrally into account, the worst-off in society.
    However, almost by definition such domestic political arrangements will
    hurt the distant poor. This is a problem that liberal
    egalitarians have been unable to solve except at a prohibitive
    theoretical or practical cost. Our approach is unaffected by this

    Interesting. I want to see more elaboration of this argument. However, I suspect that standard or right-wing libertarianism is not the only approach unaffected by this (purportedly) inconsistency between its local and global variants of its theory of justice.   

  • You might consider using the term “skill flow” instead of “brain drain.”

  • A couple notes regarding international trade. First it isn’t really “trade”, but rather just buying stuff from another country. That may at first seem to be a distinction without a difference, but when you consider the interaction of trade deficits with budget deficits (i.e., money sent overseas in exchange for goods comes back to purchase Federal debt and other assets rather than domestically produced goods) the distinction has real consequences. But even if you accept the distinction you may still wonder what difference it makes.

    Here’s how: The whole rationale for trade is that it makes both parties better off than they would be without trade. In the context of this post, in particular we’re concerned about the welfare of the worst off in both societies. It’s important to keep in mind that what really counts toward standard of living isn’t little pieces of paper (money) but rather the ability to consume real goods and services. When trade is unbalanced (e.g., U.S. & Mexico) what happens? The third-world workers have jobs, yes. But they don’t get to consume the goods and services they produce. And in the U.S., we get to consume those goods (yay!) but since we didn’t produce them the result is unemployment and wage suppression (boo!).

    So who benefits? Well that leads to another criticism. When free-traders, particularly libertarians, frame these issues it’s always along the lines of two individuals, living in different countries, being forcibly prevented from trading between themselves (or having to endure a frictional tax). It’s as if Joe in Cleveland is being prevented from trading with Jose in Acapulco. The reality is that aside from some tourist shopping I’ve never personally engaged in international trade and I would wager that no one reading this blog has really done so either, AS A PERSON. Rather, international trade is conducted by corporations — artificial persons that wouldn’t even exist (in their present form at least) in the absence of government fiat. It gets worse: something like 40% of international “trade” is really along the lines of H.P. America, Inc. buying computers from H.P. China, Inc.; it’s simply one transnational corporation sitting athwart the borders and taking advantage of tax, regulatory, and wage differentials. Since corporations are not natural persons, but rather the creation of state power, it’s hard to see how regulation of their activities violates any person’s liberties. At this point the real issue becomes one of economic utility.

    So to answer the question, who benefits? The shareholders and executives of said transnationals are the primary beneficiary’s. And those folks are decidedly not among society’s worst off, and that benefit comes squarely at the expense of the worst off of BOTH societies.

    • Jay_Z

      Even without the corporate issue, libertarians would seem to have to agree that just because person A and person B are trading, person C is not required to pay for the cost of the trade between person A and person B.

      Trade is not really free.  It requires commercial centers, which have infrastructure costs, and the concentration of wealth that tends to attract robbers.  Trade routes have infrastructure and travel costs, and tend to attract pirates.  There is a cost to trade.

      Years ago, when Marco Polo or Columbus were looking for funding for their trips, it might have been clear that those who opted out were not forced to support those trips.  You took the risk or you didn’t, and if the operation went belly up you were out.  In today’s world there’s a disconnect between those putting the resources into keeping the trade routes open and the stores protected, and those benefiting the most.  And whenever corporate taxes or tariffs are broached, it’s “free trade helps all of us.”  Now it’s us?!?  This sort of trade is a taking, a redistribution, just as much as anything else. 

      • Thanks! You raise an issue I hadn’t considered enough. There’s a reason that the Coast Guard is a part of the Commerce Department. And an explicit mission of the Navy is to protect trade routes. So how many tax-supported billion$ is all that? Then there’s maintenance of harbors. And the original construction of the Panama Canal (which we no longer own). Are port facilities public or private? Probably some mix, but I couldn’t say. Ditto for airports.

        • Yes, if you look at a global map of sea lanes, you’ll see a connection between strategic places along trade routes and most of the wars in which we’ve been involved over the past century, which is why so much legislation, economic and taxing power comes from the few words “to regulate commerce” under the Commerce Clause, including the regulatory tax on our currency (which prevents us from claiming that our labor is our property).

    • 3cantuna

      There are many economists in the Austrian tradition with libertarian perspectives that reject NAFTA precisely because it is not a free trade agreement. If it really was about free trade and not state managed trade, the latter resulting in many of the distortions and inequities you are concerned with, then ‘the contract would have been one page long instead of one thousand’.

      • I don’t totally disagree (you can pick yourself off the floor now :P). And it’s not just Austrians; Dean Baker makes much the same point in his e-book, “Loser Liberalism”, which I highly recommend. NAFTA and other such trade agreements have been engineered to disadvantage lower wage workers relative to higher paid professionals. And the WTO is basically the NWO run by and for transnational corporations.

        Even so, labor, despite having legs, will never be as mobile as capital (read, money), which can be transmitted instantly around the world. You could remove every legal barrier to emigration and immigration, and offer free plane tickets to boot, and it would still be a daunting task to uproot your family and relocate in some foreign land with unfamiliar customs and language, far from friends and family.

        And my basic point remains: International trade looks a lot different when you take the money out of the picture and just look at what’s happening with the goods and services themselves. Foreign trade has always been a profitable venture, but it also carried significant risks and frictions which have largely been dissolved. Modern communications, transportation, and monetary systems, as well as the modern transnational corporate structures have changed the game sufficiently to render any 18th century analysis irrelevant.

        Now you can still fall back onto a strictly rights/liberty argument if you wish, but Mr. Teson has been explicitly making his argument based on the assumption that trade makes all the citizens — and particularly the worst off — of both partners better off in order to appeal to welfare liberals. If that assumption fails — for whatever reason — then so does his argument.

        • But you can’t “take money out of the picture,” nor can you assume that “capital” is money. That’s the big problem today. Money is almost always debt owned to private banksters, not really “capital,” i.e., not really a reliable storehouse of human labor. For a great definition of what “capital” really is (legitimate Treasury-Direct “seignorage”) I’ve found Henry George’s “Progress and Poverty” to be best at explaining.

  • Fernando Teson

    Thank you all very much for the excellent comments. I’ll try
    to respond to some of them. This doesn’t mean that I do not appreciate the
    rest; rather, if I don’t address them here it may be because I agree with them.

    Cristian: I  concur
    with Demian S. and furball 4. I would add that the concept of a governmental
    “trade policy” is highly susupect. To my eyes, the only justified “trade
    policy” is to allow perons to trade feely, that is, a free-trade policy.

    Good-in-theory: Good point. Our argument is not that there
    is in every instance a hard dilemma between non-interference and global
    redistribution. As you guessed, we have separate arguments against the
    desirability of foreign aid (which we develop in a separate chapter.) However,
    I would point out that often redistributive schemes are accompanied by moves
    that do interfere with the personal projects of the poor. This is a highly
    complex empirical question and each case must be studied separately.

    Rick di Mare: Very good point about money. No, we don’t
    address it, but now you have piqued my curiosity and will try to find more
    about the topic.

    UserGoogol: Maybe I didn’t phrase it correctly. Here’s the
    problem: theories of the Rawlsian type select as their focus the wrong
    representative class as beneficiaries of the difference principle, because the
    world’s poor are much worse off than the domestic poor in a rich country. If
    one takes Rawls’s difference principle seriously, global institutions should be
    arranged so as to benefit the world’s worst-off, even if by doing so they worsen
    the position of the domestic poor. This problem was shown early on by Pogge and
    others. As you know, Rawls himself answered by denying that the difference
    principle applies globally.

    Matt and DJW: Our differences with Pogge are partly
    described in my piece“Why Free Trade
    is Required by Justice,”  Social Philosophy & Policy, vol. 29
    (2011): 126, 147-49. We agree with him on two points: the injustice of
    trade barriers by rich countries and the injustice of the international law
    rule of “effectiveness,” which entitles dictators basically to steal from their
    people with impunity. However, we think Pogge got the causal story wrong.  It is false, we believe, that the
    international system is a tool of rich countries to keep poor countries poor.
    As Mathias Risse has shown, the opposite is generally true, as increased trade
    liberalization has reduced poverty dramatically. More generally, we accept the
    view that the main cause of poverty is institutional, and that therefore the
    main culprits are the poor countries’ own
    regimes and institutions, not the rich countries. Pogge explicitly denies
    the institutionalist thesis, and condemns only corrupt regimes that are
    complicitous with transnational corporations and Western governments. He says
    little, or nothing, about those regimes’ disastrous populist policies that, in
    our judgment,  have kept their countries
    submerged. In short: for us, the injustice to the poor is largely homegrown;
    for Pogge, it is largely inflicted by the world’s rich. By the way, DJW, thank
    you for your kind words. I’m encouraged that your disagreement with us will
    only be 50%!

    Rode Engelsman: Our view on international trade is the
    standard view held by mainstream economists, which is grounded on Ricardian
    theory. Jon Klick and I have summarized it in our SSRN piece, “Global Justice
    and Trade: A Puzzling Omission,”

    Michael Wiebe: I assume you’re being sarcastic? Is “skill
    flow” the PC term now for “brain drain”? 
    It sounds like someone calling dogs “canine-americans”. 

    • The link didn’t work, but it likely doesn’t matter if it’s behind a pay-wall since I won’t be able to access it anyway.

      In any case, I’m familiar with Ricardo’s Theory of Comparative Advantage. That’s all well and fine, but that theory — like any theory — comes pre-loaded with certain assumptions. Essentially, it assumes that country “A” will produce products with its own land, labor, and capital and the same for country “B”. It also implicitly assumes that trade will be balanced, insofar as goods from country “A” are paid for with goods from country “B” (or the inverse, it doesn’t matter). To the extent that money is considered the form of payment, the currency is assumed to be physical gold. Smith treated that subject and dismissed it as a concern since any imbalance would automatically correct itself by the mechanism of domestic inflation (in the selling country) and domestic deflation (in the buying country).

      You might imagine that currency arbitrage would accomplish the same effect, but that hasn’t occurred in the real world. That’s because the relative value of currencies doesn’t actually reflect the relative value of goods those currencies may purchase, but something else; relative returns on investment, I suppose.

      Bottom line is that  I actually could agree with you that free international trade could be beneficial, but a lot of other things would have to change to make that a reality. And frankly, I’m not convinced that the standard libertarian prescription would be the changes that would do the trick. In any case, as things stand, free trade as a cure for poverty is an empty promise.

    • One more note on trade. Comparative Advantage is a MACRO-economic theory. At heart it’s just applying the rather obvious advantages of specialization of labor to nations. But it says nothing about how those advantages will be distributed between the owners of Capital and Labor; it’s not designed to do that.

  • Rickrad

    Regarding item 1: If humanity ever approaches earth’s carrying capacity, there will necessarily be another relationship with distant people — arguably a duty — which is to negotiate/create/operate/enforce a framework to restrict our use of resources. Some (not usually libertarians) argue we need to consider this now. Advances in technology may delay or accelerate this issue.