The Bad Economics of Non-economists

"A recent example of such ignorance appears in Daniel McCarthy’s January 22nd Law & Liberty essay adorned with the unintentionally ironic title “Economic Nationalism as Political Realism.” In this essay, McCarthy – an American conservative trained, not in economics, but in the classics – unrealistically asserts that we economists and other “market liberals” who support free trade build our case on the “abstraction” of “a pristine market in which there are no pre-existing distortions arising from political influence (or any other source).”

McCarthy fails to offer a single example of any such oblivious real-world market liberal. This failure is unsurprising, for no such market liberal exists; he or she is purely a figment of McCarthy’s imagination. (In a post at my blog I challenge McCarthy to supply evidence of the reality of his alleged “market liberal.”)

No one familiar enough with the economics of trade to be competent to declaim publicly on this topic would write what McCarthy wrote. Indeed, those of us who possess some knowledge of the economics of trade find this particular assertion by McCarthy to be especially bizarre. The reason is that nearly all of the intellectual energy that has been poured over the past few centuries into defending a policy of free trade has been devoted to explaining why free trade is the best policy despite the distortions introduced into markets both by foreign governments and by the home government."