Free Trade and The Wisdom of Alien Ferns

Finally, we resolved to be less bitter about the world today. After all, it is what it is. You just have to make your plans and find your way through it. But everything we’ve written about today on ordinary Europeans bailing out of their own banks and Australia’s corporate tax law, reminds us that we do have a choice. The government is not the economy, nor is it the people, nor is the country.

There is a better, freer, and much less coercive way to live with one another. We attempted to explain this to a nephew of ours recently. He’s teaching free trade and economics to high school students, although he admitted he, “mostly talked about the negative, exploitative aspects of it.” He asked us to present the “positive side”.

We agreed. But we hastened to point out we weren’t defending the incumbent system. It is most definitely not free. It’s based on government power, unsound money, and the seeking and granting of special legal privileges. Under the current system, slaves on one side of the planet (in China) are forced to make goods for sale to slaves on the other side of the planet (America).

The slavery is mutual. Both are enslaved to a system that rewards the perpetual expansion of debt and turns everyone into a cog in the great global machine. But rather than go at the subject academically, we took another tack. Here’s what we wrote (it was just after his birthday, by the way).

Yo birthday ma, happy birthday a few days late. Hope you had a suitable party. Also, I was reading a book (partly) about wolf pack-like dogs with collective consciousness on a foreign planet. It’s actually a science fiction book by Vernor Vinge called “A Fire Upon the Deep.”

Anyway, in the book is a species of tall, water-born fernlike plants that move around on something like a four-wheeled Segway. Naturally, they are traders. Plants are good negotiators apparently; very patient.

In any event, the one plant called Blueshell is explaining to a passenger on his spaceship why he finds trade so fascinating and why it seems to be a common practice in all the universe, even when species find each other especially alien and even viscerally off-putting.

He says that any useful dialogue or interaction between alien species usually begins with two questions:”What do you have that might be useful to me and how can I persuade you to part with it?”

Note that contact between species that does not include “useful dialogue” is what we otherwise might call war. So, I took it to mean that trade is an alternative way for neighbouring species (or ethnic groups or cultures) to interact with one another peaceably, and to their mutual benefit, without coercion (which is just another form of violence).The emphasis is on getting what you find useful through persuasion, not war or the tax code.

There is also a practical benefit to trading for what you want instead of taking it through force. The more you trade with others, the more you’re likely to find something produced by an alien useful because it’s not something you can produce yourself, like lobster, or coffee beans, or a coffee maker, or a kitchen counter to, or a Ferrari. Trade promotes specialisation, which opens lots of doors for craftsman.

Granted, the version of trade we have today is a kind of trade on steroids, with big automated factories shipping goods on big automated container ships to big automated ports where they are loaded on to trucks for display in big box stores where people buy things at a fraction of the premium to the cost of the raw materials and labour that went into making them.

This doesn’t promote specialisation. And qualitatively, it may encourage people to think of themselves as “consumers” rather than “producers.” This becomes a cultural problem in the long run, and a competitive problem in economic terms, but it is certainly better than war.

And really, the root problem of consumer culture isn’t the vice of greed, or sloth, or envy…its unsound money and credit, which makes it possible to steal the value of another man’s labour through the fiction of paper money or the coercion of the law. Real free trade promotes production, innovation, efficiency, and good stewardship of scarce resources through low taxes, sound money, the rule of law, and private property. Simple and fair rules make life qualitatively better.

We should hope for more free trade and for a smaller, less grasping, less know-it-all government on the far side of this crisis. Government is becoming such a dangerously large parasite that it threatens to kill the host. And Big Finance is a further parasite on the government.

I suppose if I had to put it to you philosophically, I’d say that trade forces us to make our lives useful to one another by producing things people actually want and are willing to trade for. That is real capitalism and free trade, uncorrupted by unsound money. It only has two basic rules: do what you say you’re going to do and don’t take what’s not yours.

Unsound money – big government and big finance – force us all into debt and reward the financialisation of the economy. This makes us slaves to debt, slaves to our appetites, and makes us all deeply unhappy, unfulfilled, overweight, and addicted to drugs, angry, impatient, and violent.

Double plus ungood.

Anyway, I hope you are well and had a good Thanksgiving! I always miss Thanksgiving the most, for the food and family and football. And the food.

Take care and with love,

Dan Denning,
for Markets and Money

Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.

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3 Comments on "Free Trade and The Wisdom of Alien Ferns"

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Duncan Turner

What a great piece of writing!

Very moving – highlighting the tragedy of our economic world today.

I did wonder about the bit in italics – which part of the article was a quote and which part was yours . .

I guess more was your own that the current formatting suggests.

Dan, you’re a man for all seasons.

Literary, philosophical as well as economically informed.

Love your work.


Why are we ignoring the elephant-in-the-room here? Back-to-back interest rate cuts… and nary a word. Instead we have… what?!~ A resolve to be less bitter?

Where was that bit? Useful introspective, but there are real things happening outside your spaceship porthole, Daniel!~ :D

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