The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism (Book Review) | On Financial Success


When is a book more than a book? Occasionally a book comes along with an idea so powerful, so simple that it threatens to transform the world.

Russell Roberts’ The Choice: A Fable of Free Trade and Protectionism is more than a book.

Roberts offers us a glimpse of a different America, an America free from foreign competition. A poorer America because it shunned trade. This alternative history is particularly relevant today as members of the media and politicians are all too happy to promote the idea that foreign countries like China are stealing our jobs.

Instead, Roberts shows readers how trade does not affect the number of jobs, instead it affects the types of jobs people work. Fortunately for us, one of the main characters is resistant to the idea.

This resistance to change provides the premise for the story. Ed Johnson, CEO of the Stellar Television Company is facing increased competition from lower priced Japanese televisions. Johnson is a generous man who wants to see his employees protected. His solution is a tariff on Japanese televisions.

In 1960, the tariff passes and employees of the Stellar Television Company continue to prosper. But this tax puts American down a dangerous path and it’s up to nineteenth-century economist David Ricardo to show Ed why (and to earn his heavenly wings in the process).

Their discussions range from outsourcing to tariffs to trade deficits and whether globalization helps the poor.

Roberts view of trade is anything but naive. Sometimes a few people are made worse off when their job moves overseas, but most people’s lives are enriched. The foreign worker now has a job much better than what was available before. Everyone now has access to a more affordable product. And the displaced worker is freed to pursue other opportunities that might pay more or be more rewarding.

Ultimately, the next generation has more money and more choices that were simply unimaginable when the jobs initially moved.

The Choice is a wonderful little book full of powerful examples that will help you better understand the benefits of trade. A clearer understanding is important today as free societies are faced with the choice between allowing people to make mutually beneficial transactions or protecting the incomes of a few at the expense of many.

You can learn more about the benefits of trade at Russell Roberts’ homepage, or at Cafe Hayek where he blogs. He also hosts a regular “economics podcast for daily life” called EconTalk. The Choice is available at and sample chapters of his books are available.