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April 22, 2008

Comments

James

"When new trading partners can sell in our market, and American companies can sell in theirs, the gains are great and they are lasting."

So, when can we expect to see them? Some time this millenia? This is ideology run amok.

Nathan Smith

OK, a big quibble and a little quibble.

Big quibble: we have been seeing gains for a long time. Growing economy, low unemployment, low inflation. For the past twenty-five years. That's not all due to freer trade of course. But free trade has a lot to do with it. Cheap imports from China keep inflation low so that the Fed doesn't have to slam on the brakes and throw a lot of people out of work.

Little quibble: "ideology run amok" seems to imply that ideology is bad, some kind of defect or failing, best avoided. Baloney. The critical study of ideas, i.e. ideology, is an important part of understanding the world.

Nato

A quibble with the little quibble: I don't think that "ideology run amok" requires that ideology be a negative. "Amok" implies that it was sane and normal, then went, well, amok.

Even littler quibble: James wants the singular "millenium."

In a less superficial vein, I'm reminded of a few conversations I've had lately in which people talk about some sort of simplified, 'back to basics' type economy, either in the context of an apocalypse or in 'environmentalist' regimes that amount to apocalypses. The fact of the matter is that we're able to support the planet's population and keep the economy growing even on a per-capita basis not just through technology in the narrow sense, but through economic technology. And like the enormously complex systems of machines that we've assembled to allow for things like this blog, disengaging one part from another just makes it not work any more. Likewise, if we refused to connect computers together in the first place, they would be a lot less useful. It's true that the golden age of the BBS is over, and I'm sure there are many people who are sad that their years of investment in BBS-related pursuits have become irrelevant, forcing them to start over in the wider world of the internet, but that doesn't mean networks are wrong. Ditto free trade.

Granted, the degree of investment people have in their career is very great, so market changes wrought by free trade - which most individuals do not have the resources to anticipate or negotiate - are quite a bit more damaging to the individuals negatively affected. The government may well be best positioned to take a leadership role in ameliorating this, since it does have economists. As always, putting something in the government's hands is a fine way of breaking it, but a system of help for individuals impacted by trade-related employment dislocation is already quite broken in places.

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