Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We all own stolen goods

You very likely own stolen goods. The gas in your car, the circuits in your cell phone, the diamond in your ring, the chemicals in your lipstick or shaving cream — even the plastic in your computer may be the product of theft. Americans buy huge quantities of goods every day that are literally stolen from some of the world’s poorest people. These thefts are permitted — indeed encouraged — by an archaic rule of international trade that violates the most fundamental rule of capitalism: to protect property rights.

From a blogger at the Cato Institute, which is quite surprising, but makes a certain perverse sense. I don't think the prescription would work, but it makes for an interesting thought experiment:

Say that China buys $3 billion worth of oil from the regime in Khartoum. The correct response on a property rights approach is for the United States government immediately to announce a Clean Hands Trust for the People of Sudan. This trust is a bank account that the U.S. government will fill until it contains $3 billion. The money to fill the trust will be raised from tariffs on Chinese imports as they enter the United States. The money in this Clean Hands Trust is to be held for the people of Sudan until a minimally decent, unified government is in place. At that point the $3 billion will be turned over to the true owners of the stolen oil: the Sudanese people.

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