I want to talk about a topic that has come to light recently which I believe is of utmost importance to someone who considers individual liberty paramount. When we usually talk about liberty, it’s generally in the political and social sense and the economic sphere is not often discussed.
However, with the recent calls to boycott Chinese manufactured products, it has brought to my mind the idea of liberty, not only in a political and social, but also in an economic sense. It’s the topic of economic liberty that I want to discuss.
Every day on Twitter, I see calls to boycott Chinese manufactured products. On Instagram and Whatsapp, the situation is no different. For long, I didn’t consider this as an incoming threat to economic liberty. There’s no problem in encouraging people to boycott Chinese manufactured products. I put the focus on the word “encouraging”. As long as it is done voluntarily, there is no problem. The problem arises when the State “forces” a consumer not to use a product. A ban on a commercial product is fully justified when needed, for instance, a harmful medicine or a poisonous fertiliser.
However, things only grew serious when the Government banned 59 Chinese apps, among which is the famous video sharing app TikTok. The Government declared that they had been banned as they presented a national security threat. But the sad truth is that we all know that it was a move in revenge. As of now, it seems highly probable that the Indian Government will further ban Chinese manufactured products.
I, as a libertarian, believe in the minimal intervention of the state in the economy and I see this ban as a clear attack on the economic liberty of an individual. I have long been a believer that in a free market capitalist system there is only one “responsibility” of a consumer; to get the best product for the lowest price possible. I believe that it’s simply irrelevant where the product comes from, be it China or Mars. However, this order is clearly under threat.
In my opinion, no matter the political differences between the two governments, the economic ties of the two countries must be left untouched as much as possible. Bringing an economic war affects the people of both countries. Sometimes the economy has to be pulled in between; however, in my opinion, this wasn’t such a case. And as if that weren’t enough, it’s also an attack on individual liberty. The simple reason why it’s a squeeze on individual liberty is that economic liberty is an integral part of individual liberty. A society without economic liberty is not at all truly free.
However, to the intelligent reader who wants to delve deeper, I shall go a step further into the technicalities of the matter. In a free market system, we’re all using the market to achieve our own goals. If one has a goal, then from an economic point of view at least, it cannot be achieved directly. We make use of different “agents” in the economy to satisfy our needs and wants and achieve our goals.
For example, I want to buy a new car. Do I just walk into the store and buy it? Well, yes, but no, from an economic point of view. From an economist’s eye, there is much more involved. To buy a car one has to first find sellers, compare the offerings and choose the preferred option. To pay for it, the buyer usually takes help from an external agency, generally a bank. In turn, a commercial bank makes use of the central bank to give out a loan. Such a process goes down to the tiniest level, such as buying paper, using transportation to get around, using the internet to apply for a loan, using a computer, etc.
So, if we look at the above example closely we find that the buyer makes use of all sorts of services which eventually lead up to his goal. The buyer makes use of economic agents in order to satisfy his wants. If we look at it from an even broader point of view, one would understand that the ban of any agent involved may lead to the buyer not getting what they desire. Banning any product creates a hindrance for an individual to achieve their goals.
I would once again assert that in the gravest of situations a ban is justified. By banning commercial goods the Indian Government has created an unnecessary hindrance for consumers. I believe that the government ban was completely unjustified. I hope that the people of India realise this and reconsider their calls to ban a particular product.