Straight talk on trade
An economist tells the other economists to not be so fast to say free trade is good. And I am using free trade as it is practiced in our current system.
Are economists partly responsible for Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the US presidential election? Even if they may not have stopped Trump, economists would have had a greater impact on the public debate had they stuck closer to their discipline’s teaching, instead of siding with globalization’s cheerleaders.
As my book Has Globalization Gone Too Far? went to press nearly two decades ago, I approached a well-known economist to ask him if he would provide an endorsement for the back cover. I claimed in the book that, in the absence of a more concerted government response, too much globalization would deepen societal cleavages, exacerbate distributional problems, and undermine domestic social bargains – arguments that have become conventional wisdom since.
Sky-High Monetary Policy Economist Stefan Gerlach examines the promise and limitations of “helicopter money,” and considers arguments for and against advanced by Project Syndicate commentators.
The economist demurred. He said he didn’t really disagree with any of the analysis, but worried that my book would provide “ammunition for the barbarians.” Protectionists would latch on to the book’s arguments about the downsides of globalization to provide cover for their narrow, selfish agenda.
It’s a reaction I still get from my fellow economists. One of them will hesitantly raise his hand following a talk and ask: Don’t you worry that your arguments will be abused and serve the demagogues and populists you are decrying?
There is always a risk that our arguments will be hijacked in the public debate by those with whom we disagree. But I have never understood why many economists believe this implies we should skew our argument about trade in one particular direction. The implicit premise seems to be that there are barbarians on only one side of the trade debate. Apparently, those who complain about World Trade Organization rules or trade agreements are awful protectionists, while those who support them are always on the side of the angels.
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