Tuesday, November 30

Free trade?

Macon posted a quote from David Brooks that I agreed with.
I hate to be the bearer of good news, because only pessimists are regarded as intellectually serious, but we're in the 11th month of the most prosperous year in human history. Last week, the World Bank released a report showing that global growth "accelerated sharply" this year to a rate of about 4 percent. Best of all, the poorer nations are leading the way.

What explains all this good news? The short answer is this thing we call globalization. Over the past decades, many nations have undertaken structural reforms to lower trade barriers, shore up property rights and free economic activity. International trade is surging. The poor nations that opened themselves up to trade, investment and those evil multinational corporations saw the sharpest poverty declines. Write this on your forehead: Free trade reduces world suffering.
Then Eric posted on his weblog about his comment on Macon's post:
Free trade is good, but it still has a long way to go. The most important factor in making free trade work is keeping the playing field even in terms of regulations. The U.S., with a federal minimum wage, cannot morally have its workers sit idle while jobs go to a third world country without a minimum wage. Either the minimum wage needs to be abolished (not something I would condone), or trade barriers need to be in place to disallow certain trade with countries that don't have a minium wage. This is one example. Another is child labor. Let me reiterate that I support free trade, but it must be conducted in a manner of fairness.
I respectfully disagree with Eric. My comment:
Eric, i used to think this way about free trade, but i have begun to question my assumptions. Barnett would say that every industrializing country goes through these kinds of stresses: too-low wages, child labor, environmental damage. the examples can be multiplied.

is it possible for this stage to be skipped? i don't know. it can certainly be ameliorated. but i think we need to be careful about being paternalistic and saying 'you can't exploit your environment/resources/labor/people the way we did ours to pull ourselves up to this position.' this is the thing that makes me open to drilling in ANWR: the people who live there want to make money off of it.

free trade cannot be kept even. i don't even think this is a desirable goal anymore. tax breaks for companies who keep (some) jobs here might be a good fix. transitioning our industries, services, and workforce to something less outsourceable is another one. what do you think?


Right: What do you think?
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