The best arguments for the free market are practical rather than theoretical. As an abstract concept, the idea that economies flourish when left to themselves does not appear especially persuasive. Why have a hundred competing car factories rather when the government could simply pick the best one and reallocate the others to something else? Why leave things to pile up in a random, higgledy-piggledy fashion when you could marshall the best minds to impose some sort of order?
There are, in fact, logical answers to these questions. But by far the most convincing answer is empirical. Other things being equal, free-trading countries always outperform over-regulated countries.
History has provided us with some laboratory-condition demonstrations: West Germany versus East Germany, for example, or South Korea versus North Korea. The developing world, too, is full of comparable pairings where the country readier to embrace global markets beats the one that clings to protectionism. Compare growth rates in Vietnam and Burma, or Colombia and Venezuela, or Bangladesh and Pakistan.
My new favourite example, though, is Uganda (partly because I’ve just been there) versus the Democratic Republic of the Congo (partly because it’s the only other sub-Saharan African state I’ve spent any time in).
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