The sound of the free-trade chickens coming home to roost is unmistakable ["China's Demands Anger Congress, May Hurt Bid," Business, July 6].

The People's Republic of China has used its ability to evade the social constraints that limit the freedom of our trade so that it can build up a huge payment surplus. It can then use that surplus to buy up the global oil supply in the free market. The $18.5 billion offered for Unocal is the equivalent of only a few weeks of the U.S. trade deficit with China. Why would China need to go to the expense of building a military force to compete with ours when it can bring us down simply by throttling our oil supply?

Minimum wages, considerations for health and safety and for the environment, business taxes and health care limit our ability to cut domestic production costs to levels necessary to match the overseas competition.

We can scrap our social programs and adapt to a Third World lifestyle, or we can apply some objective self-interest to level the trading field.

The laws of economics, whether we know them or not, will devour us in a short time if we can't protect that which we value.