splendid exchange

Jeffrey Tucker spends most of his review describing why William Bernstein’s A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World is so wonderful, and I agree with his praise for a book I very much enjoyed and learned from.

Tucker is more forgiving than I am of the book’s pervasive flaws:

My only complaints are minor ones: Bernstein doesn’t seem to have a solid theory of trade that goes beyond neoclassical economic conventions. Had he put one up front, he would have been able to go beyond the very good chronicle here to actually forge a solid theory of the social order itself. It is another example of how Smith’s “propensity to truck and barter” has misled: instead of seeing trade as an extension of human rationality, a mutually beneficial exchange that extends from the desire to better one’s lot in life, he treats the entire subject as if it were an instinct of some sort. But that is a regrettable oversight that in no way diminishes the contribution here.

My second complaint concerns the final chapter, which conforms to a rule often cited by the late Murray Rothbard — that all final chapters of books should just be removed. Bernstein spends the entire book showing how trade can take place without any government management, and then uses the last chapter to argue for government-managed trade in the form of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization.

You just want to shout, Read your own book, Mr. Bernstein!

In general I would have appreciated a less tentative conclusion, something along the lines of pointing out that trade is what makes it possible for all great and glorious things to take shape in this world, and without which only a few people would be alive, living in caves and eating whatever they could hunt or gather.

The book is even more important than the author knows.

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