How can trade be bad?

I heard Bob Geldof (may he live long!) on the radio the other day, and he was moaning about free trade agreements between europe and africa. I think he was saying that africa needs aid, not trade. That opening up “africa” to free trade with europe would just mean that we (the europeans) would flood africa with our goods and that this would somehow hurt africa and africans.

If anybody else said this I’d just laugh and forget about it. But this was Bob Geldof. Bob Geldof. So I listened. Maybe he’s got a point.

I try not to be a fundamentalist about anything. Instead I try to believe things with varying degrees of intensity, but try really, really, really hard to stay alert to anything that might contradict what I currently believe.

Anyway, if I believe anything with a lot of conviction, I believe that free, unencumbered trade is a Good Thing. It’s easy: any unforced trade between two people leaves them both better off. Otherwise they wouldn’t do it.

Therefore, how can trade ever be bad?

OK, so a key word here is “unforced”. Anything that involves somebody spending somebody else’s money is likely not a good trade. (This probably covers most, it not all, government spending!)

My mind is open to the possibility that free trade between “europe” and “africa” could somehow be a bad thing. But I doubt it. Suggestions welcome. Evidence particularly welcome.


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