Thursday, December 3, 2009

Even To the WTO, Free Trade Is A Tough Sell

An article in the WSJ, "Blame Goes Global at WTO
Officials at Trade Talks Say Fears of Lost Jobs and Political Fallout Block Progress
," by JOHN W. MILLER, DECEMBER 3, 2009, describes foot dragging on free trade at the current WTO meeting in Geneva.
In all countries, "people are afraid" of another trade deal, says U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. "Trade has provided a way for people to have fresh produce, cheap T-shirts, available electronics, but the pain of trade is very real."

Benefits of free trade in the U.S.?

Low inflation? (Inflation can be controlled without running a huge trade deficit.) Cheap consumer goods? (And dubious quality; and diminished consumer income and job security) Fewer wars? (Not much evidence of that.)

I'd really like to see a convincing defense of free trade as it relates to the U.S. economy. Not just the same old hollow tropes trotted out about an evolving, white-collar-trending economy; and economic leveling that might happen one day, but a real defense based on current evidence of prosperity gained (by everyone, not the rich alone).

I doubt it exists. But economists everywhere seem to have a personal stake in the empty notion of wide-open free trade with no shared standards for worker safety, wages, health care, pensions, or environmental protection.

Until somebody comes up with a convincing argument for selling out our industrial base (and engineering know-how, and labor rights), let's go back to mercantilism. At least the benefits, along with the faults, are clear. (And please, don't bring up speculative assertions centered on Smoot-Halley -- they don't hold up to scrutiny.)

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