Saturday, May 16, 2015

Free Trade In The Popular Consciousness

I think it important to oppose errors, both when they are formulated by supposedly rigorous economic thinkers and when they are popularly repeated. The relationships between ideas on different levels can be complicated.

I like writing about minimum wages because it is a clear case where:

  • Textbook teaching is wrong, both on empirical
  • and on theoretical grounds.
  • Until recently at least, surveys of economists showed that they, by and large, accepted the mistaken teaching.

As I understand it, "free trade" is a policy area where economists have even more agreement, based on mistaken theory. (I suppose I should include a link to survey of economists somewhere in this post. Any suggestions?) The book from which the following quote is taken contains a structured literature survey, and is written for the general reader:

"Even if I were wrong about this, and the most sophisticated of mainstream economists did think that there was something flawed about the connection between free trade policies and comparative advantage on its own terms (and not merely where its assumptions have been debased), a further point should be raised... We are here engaged in a project of critiquing the ideological effect generated by comparative advantage - of the rationalization that it provides for certain kinds of policies and socioeconomic arrangements. The views of the most sophisticated of academic economists are one - although not the only - part of this, particularly when a less sophisticated version of their ideas predominate outside the halls of economics departments. The manner in which the ideas of intellectuals permeate education, the media and public debate are often more important to the practices of actual agents, policy-makers, and so on, than the most sophisticated renderings of those ideas that emerge from the academy. It matters little if the most sophisticated of economists doubt the connection between free trade and comparative advantage if politicians, commentators, policy-makers or indeed, the public at large, buy the connection between the two and therefore support free trade policies. Indeed, my point - and this enquiry as a whole - is lent its sharpness by its relevance to the world of action, to policy, to normative concerns, to what people do - and think is right to do - because of the ideas that are peddled by intellectuals." -- Vishaal Kishore (2014). Ricardo's Gauntlet: Economic Fiction and the Flawed Case for Free Trade (Anthem Press).

No comments: