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Talking Trade – I, Woollen Coat

16 Nov 2016

During the campaign, president-elect Trump was occasionally Narcissistic, evidenced political Inexperience, was sometimes Thin-skinned, and often Short tempered (NITS). However, his acceptance speech sought “… to bind the wounds of division”. Since the election he has had a long meeting with President Obama and has been conferring with members of the Republican Party. Donald J. Trump has been acting presidential. As Thomas Sowell said, “Donald Trump is a wild card. We don’t know whether he was play-acting when he carried on like a juvenile lout, or when he played the role of a mature adult.” If the president-elect does not return to his campaign NITS behavior, which would overshadow all else, we can begin to discuss policy. There are several areas in which I disagree with president-elect Trump’s proposed policies. One such area is global trade. President-elect Trump would like to restrain trade, I believe trade should be free.

There are several ways we can discuss why free-trade is both a moral and an economic good. One reason I support free-trade is the way in which we cooperate through trade. Through trade we have productive relationships with people we do not know and in the case of international trade we have productive relationships with people in other countries as we trade with them. We can have productive social relationships with people we know and we are close to. We cannot have these productive personal relationships with people we do not know. However, through trade, we can have productive impersonal relationships with people we do not know. It is through these impersonal relationships that we cooperate with thousands of other people on a daily basis. This cooperation is the best mechanism we know for helping to ameliorate the material deprivation that came as a result of the fall (Genesis 3:17-19).

A classic description of how this cooperative social institution works can be found in Leonard Read’s 1958 essay I Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read. If you prefer the movie version, try this link, but the original essay is well written and a very short read that I can recommend highly. I am sure that Read was inspired by the concluding paragraph in the first chapter of the Wealth of Nations (I.i.11) describing the miraculous cooperation that occurs with the production of a woolen coat. In honor of Read’s essay, I have dubbed this paragraph “I, Woollen Coat”.

Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer in a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number of people of whose industry a part, though but a small part, has been employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation. The woollen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver, the fuller, the dresser, with many others, must all join their different arts in order to complete even this homely production. How many merchants and carriers, besides, must have been employed in transporting the materials from some of those workmen to others who often live in a very distant part of the country! how much commerce and navigation in particular, how many ship-builders, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers, must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners of the world! What a variety of labour too is necessary in order to produce the tools of the meanest of those workmen! To say nothing of such complicated machines as the ship of the sailor, the mill of the fuller, or even the loom of the weaver, let us consider only what a variety of labour is requisite in order to form that very simple machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool. The miner, the builder of the furnace for smelting the ore, the feller of the timber, the burner of the charcoal to be made use of in the smelting-house, the brick-maker, the brick-layer, the workmen who attend the furnace, the mill-wright, the forger, the smith, must all of them join their different arts in order to produce them. Were we to examine, in the same manner, all the different parts of his dress and household furniture, the coarse linen shirt which he wears next his skin, the shoes which cover his feet, the bed which he lies on, and all the different parts which compose it, the kitchen-grate at which he prepares his victuals, the coals which he makes use of for that purpose, dug from the bowels of the earth, and brought to him perhaps by a long sea and a long land carriage, all the other utensils of his kitchen, all the furniture of his table, the knives and forks, the earthen or pewter plates upon which he serves up and divides his victuals, the different hands employed in preparing his bread and his beer, the glass window which lets in the heat and the light, and keeps out the wind and the rain, with all the knowledge and art requisite for preparing that beautiful and happy invention, without which these northern parts of the world could scarce have afforded a very comfortable habitation, together with the tools of all the different workmen employed in producing those different conveniencies; if we examine, I say, all these things, and consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we shall be sensible that without the assistance and co-operation of many thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be provided, even according to what we very falsely imagine, the easy and simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated.