Saturday, 26 March 2016

Paul Krugman on Trade

Writing in 2016:

"But it’s also true that much of the elite defense of globalization is basically dishonest: false claims of inevitability, scare tactics (protectionism causes depressions!), vastly exaggerated claims for the benefits of trade liberalization and the costs of protection, hand-waving away the large distributional effects that are what standard models actually predict. I hope, by the way, that I haven’t done any of that; I think I’ve always been clear that the gains from globalization aren’t all that (here’s a back-of-the-envelope on the gains from hyperglobalization — only part of which can be attributed to policy — that is less than 5 percent of world GDP over a generation); and I think I’ve never assumed away the income distribution effects.
So the elite case for ever-freer trade is largely a scam, which voters probably sense even if they don’t know exactly what form it’s taking.
But it is fair to say that the case for more trade agreements — including TPP, which hasn’t happened yet — is very, very weak. And if a progressive makes it to the White House, she should devote no political capital whatsoever to such things."

Writing in 1995:

"I believe that if the rhetoric that portrays international trade as a struggle continues to dominate the discourse, then policy debate will in the end be dominated by men like [James] Goldsmith, who are willing to take that rhetoric to its logical conclusion.  That is, trade will be treated as war, and the current system of relatively open world markets will disintegrate because nobody but a few professors believes in the ideology of free trade.

And that will be a shame, because for all their faults the professors are right.  The conflict among nations that so many policy intellectuals imagines prevails is an illusion; but it is an illusion that can destroy the reality of mutual gains from trade."

And in 1994:

"Most worrisome of all is the prospect that disguised protectionism will eventually give way to cruder, more open trade barriers.  For example, Robert Kuttner has long argued that all world trade should be run along the lines of the Multi-Fiber Agreement, which fixes market shares for textile and apparel. In effect, he wants the cartelization of all world markets.  Proposals like that are still outside the range of serious policy discussion, but when respectable voices lend credence to the wholly implausible idea that the Third World is responsible for the First World’s problems, they prepare the way for that kind of heavy-handed interference in world trade.

We are not talking about narrow economic issues.  If the West throws up barriers to imports out of a misguided belief that they will protect Western living standards, the effect could be to destroy the most promising aspect of today’s world economy: the beginning of widespread economic development, of hopes for a decent living standard for hundreds of millions, even billions, of human beings.  Economic growth in the Third World is an opportunity, not a threat; it is our fear of Third World success, not that success itself, that is the real danger to the world economy."

And these two from 1993:

"What is true in the Washington view, at least in broad terms, is the belief in the virtues of free markets and the evils of protectionism.  There are qualifications to that view, but they are minor compared with the essential correctness of this position."

"One of the most popular, enduring misconceptions of practical men is that countries are in competition with each other in the same way that companies in the same business are in competition.  Ricardo already knew better in 1817.  An introductory economics course should drive home to students the point that international trade is not about competition, it is about mutually beneficial exchange."

Emphasis added.

Hat tips to Don Boudreaux and Scott Alexander/Noah Smith for the quotes/links.

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