Blinder on Trade

The Grumpy Economist –  Alan Blinder has an excellent op-ed in the WSJ on trade. It’s hard to excerpt as every bit is good.


1. Most job losses are not due to international trade. Every month roughly five million new jobs are created in the U.S. and almost that many are destroyed, leaving a small net increment. International trade accounts for only a minor share of that staggering job churn. …

2. Trade is more about efficiency—and hence wages—than about the number of jobs. You probably don’t sew your own clothes or grow your own food. Instead, you buy these things from others, using the wages you earn doing something you do better. …
3. Bilateral trade imbalances are inevitable and mostly uninteresting. Each month I run a trade deficit with Public Service Electric & Gas. They sell me gas and electricity; I sell them nothing….

4. Running an overall trade deficit does not make us “losers.”…

5. Trade agreements barely affect a nation’s trade balance. ..a nation’s overall trade balance is determined by its domestic decisions, not by trade deals… America’s chronic trade deficits stem from the dollar’s international role and from Americans’ decisions not to save much, not from trade deals. Trade deficits are not a major cause of either job losses or job gains. …trade makes American workers more productive and, presumably, better paid.
One could say much more. Trade is not a “competition,” for example. But, having done this sort of thing, I’m sure lots of other good bits are on the cutting room floor.

Alan is more sympathetic to government “help” to trade losers, which I agree sounds nice if it were run by the benevolent and omniscient transfer payment planner, but I think works out poorly in practice when we look at the success or failure of actual trade adjustment programs. But that is a small nitpick.

Alan closes by wishing that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump understood these simple facts a bit better. I think his list of politicians needing enlightenment could be a little longer. But he’s courageous enough for speaking the kind of heretical truth that will come back to haunt him should he ever want a government job.

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