‘To Keep Industry Alive’: Hume on Freer International Trade As Moral Improvement
Forthcoming in 'British International Thought in the Making,' eds. B. Bourcier and M. Jakonen (Palgrave Macmillan)
25 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2022 Last revised: 24 Oct 2022
Date Written: September 28, 2022
This chapter revisits some of Hume’s pathbreaking arguments about international trade and connects them with his ideas about economic growth, refinement in consumption, and moral improvement. Hume appreciates that free trade leads to interregional and international specialization. Both rich countries and poorer countries, Hume believed, benefit from exchange, even as certain types of manufacturing move from more to less developed economies. So long as the spirit of industry is kept alive, a developed nation’s labor and capital will find alternative, productive uses through innovation and technical progress. Hume did not believe rich nations would inevitably decline as they expanded their markets into developing economies; rather, he advanced a proto-comparative advantage logic of mutually beneficial exchange. The logic of mutual benefits connects with his treatment of refinement in consumption, urbanization, and the sociology of moral judgment. Hume presents freer international trade as a way not only towards material prosperity and innovation, but a more peaceful, tolerant, and even virtuous world.
JEL Classification: B12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation