Richard Cobden lived in Britain and was considered a leading figure against imperialism in his time. As Edward Stringham points out in a Freeman Magazine article “Commerce, Markets, and Peace: Richard Cobden’s Enduring Lessons,” we have a lot to learn from Mr. Cobden.
Cobden believed that military and markets were substitutes, as in the more military you have the less markets you have. He believed that a person who was pro-market should also be pro-peace. He saw that every dollar the government spent (more like billion or trillion today) was a dollar (billion or trillion) that is not spent in the private sector. This is a classic example of an Economic term called opportunity costs. Some would argue that its all money and it is coming out some way or other. This is where Public Choice theory comes about. There is a large difference between the government’s interest and private interests.
That is where his anti-imperialism beliefs came in. He stated that no productive citizen benefits from the British government’s activities around the world. He began to educate the business class that they were paying for all of the governments projects. This may look good for the government, but the average person receives very little benefit, if any at all. He used America as the comparison. At this time, he saw that America had a small military and little influence abroad, yet, it was booming economically.
He even took down the argument that the British needed a strong Navy in order to prevent those from stealing from trade. The world is too big to police and the ones that they left to guard their ports were the worst of the worst. When you did the cost-benefit analysis, you would find that most of the money was not being spent on guarding the trade routes. Cobden believed free trade would benefit commerce a lot more than military supremacy. He believed that these battles for land ended up increasing the chance of being attacked in the future thus raising every British citizens cost. Military action cannot spread liberty, it is using coersion to free people from coersion. Liberty requires enlightenment, which can come about only by means of education and persuasion, not military force.
So my question is, where is our Richard Cobden? We have a party of anti-markets and anti-war. We have a second party of supposed pro-markets and pro-war. This is where the massive spending has been derived. It has not been a debate of more spending versus less spending. It has been a battle between military spending versus welfare spending. As long as political parties stay where they are on these issues, will we ever get spending cuts?