Trade Agreements Produce Winners and Losers, and the Losers Aren’t Very Happy About It

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Adam Ozimek lists a few things today that economists agree about almost unanimously, and I don’t have a problem with most of them. But I do find this one a bit blinkered:

The benefits of free trade and NAFTA far outweigh the costs

Economists have emphasized the benefits of free trade for a long time, reflecting the field’s belief in the importance of specialization, comparative advantage, and gains from trade. Indeed, these results are similar to other surveys that show economists strongly supporting free trade.

So why do pundits and voters lag economists in supporting free trade? In his excellent book The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan provides evidence that people suffer from a handful of systematic biases that influence their beliefs, and three of these can help explain why voters are skeptical of trade: anti-market bias, anti-foreign bias, and pessimism bias.

….As is reflected in the comments by some of the panelists trade will create winners and losers, which may also explain some opposition to trade. But economists on the left and the right still struggle the understand the level of opposition to trade….

OK, hold it right there. How much more do you need to know? Free trade may be good on an aggregate basis, but it does indeed create winners and losers. And I think economists pretty universally agree that workers without college degrees are always net losers from expanded trade. Given that two-thirds of Americans don’t have college degrees, and that promises to help workers displaced by trade agreements are generally worthless, why is it any surprise that most Americans aren’t very keen on trade agreements?

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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