>Personally, I think we ought to abolish all tariffs and price supports
>unilaterally, whether other countries do so or not. Let's thank the
thank you and amen.
The case for free trade is as open-and-shut as the case for evolution, and
it's startling to hear smart people thinking otherwise, just as it's
startling to hear educated people spout crackpot dietary notions. Issues like
the environment can and must and should be dealt with on their own
considerable merits; the incontestable, considerable merit of free trade is
that without it you and I and we all would be living poorer, meaner, uglier,
more dangerous, dirtier, and less prosperous lives. In last Sunday's New York
Times there was a comparison of the "typical" American of 1900 (a male, under
15, living in the east, part of a family with an income of $3000 IN TODAY'S
DOLLARS, x years of school, etc) vs 2000's, a woman, 20s, living in
California, income $30,000 in today's dollars, etc etc--and goodly hunks of
that can be ascribed to freer trade. I once got into an argument with a
Perotista cabbie in Boston, who said, yes, definitley, if gasoline were $50 a
gallon he'd pay it and still drive a cab and be proud to be an American. I
asked him to drop me at the T so I could take it the rest of the way to Logan
and he could see his future income.
In 1992 at the World Economic Forum in Davos--you will recall that America
was entering the mild Bush recssion and we were feeling our weltschmerz and
ennui, and that Japan was riding high and people there were eating ice cream
with gold leaf on it--I was sitting in on a discussion about protectionism,
and particularly about how to get the pigheaded Japanese to open their
markets. (Little Pig, Little Pig, let me come in! I'll huff and I'll
puff...). Dean LeBaron, then head of Batterymarch, the money management firm,
and one of the smartest people in the world, got up and said "Wait, wait:
Everybody agrees--evry business person, every economist, everybody who has
studied this--agrees and knows that the person who is MOST hurt by
protectionism is the protectionist himself. [As you said, shoddy overpriced
goods, lack of demanding competiton, etc.] So"--Dean continued--"that being
the case, why not just LET the Japanese continue to protect their markets.
The'll just be shooting themselves in the foot, and before too long their
economy will be hobbled."
Funny thing--Japan has been stagnant for 7 years, and meanwhile in miserable
America every middle seat on every bleeping airplane is filled. (not that
we're holy when it comes to free tradde; I once estimated that we subsidize
our rice farmers --e.g. with cheap water in Calfiornia-- almost as much as
Japan subsidizes its rice farmers. Agriculture is the last bastion of this
stuff, for reasons of land use, small town rural values, environmentalist
etc--that's the emotinal rationale, though the political fact of the matter
has to do with big money more often than not, siince these aren't organic
The free trade case is definitive, open and shut, done, written, over. Don't
fight that battle: you wound yourself, you would everyone.
We have environmental concerns, big ones, global ones: They should not be
part of the trade agenda, but of the environemntal agenda, and that should be
a big deal that gets the attention of the world's heads of state,
legislatures, CEOs, and individuals.
We have distribution concernes, big ones, global ones of rich and poor. (But
NOT as bad as they were, not in a basic sense. Sure, you can find figures
saying that the gap between the Upper East Side and Calcutta is wider than it
was in the 1950s, expressed in monetary terms. Yes, there are real
distribution problems. But most of you on this list are too young to remember
that in the 1950s India's biggest problem was famine, not wage levels. In
dollar terms, India might be farther behind than it was; but in Maslovian
terms, in hierarchy of needs terms, the gap has closed, not just there but
globally. That is a HUGE economic benefit and statement of progress:
Billions of people have moved from subsistence to poverty--a fabulous change
in KIND. The changes in degree will follow; now they are possible--before
they were irrelevant.) Free trade is a mjaor part of the SOLUTION to the
distribution concerns, not the cause of them.
Here endeth the jeremiad.