Crook on Blinder


Clive Crook:

Lately, though, Mr Blinder has been emphasising the downside. Perhaps he has found this arouses more interest. At the moment, as the title of his newest article indicates, he is anxious more than excited. “These forces,” he points out, “don’t look so benign from the point of view of an American computer programmer or accountant”, whose job might be at risk from foreign competition for the first time.

That is true, but how benign did those forces look to factory workers 20 years ago? Do accountants have larger claims on our sympathies than steel workers? Mr Blinder used to argue that trade creates jobs as well as destroying them and raises living standards in the process. He used to say that growing imports imply growing exports. He noted the age-old error of thinking that trade raises unemployment and said it was called the “lump of labour” fallacy. Those arguments were correct then and, in Mr Blinder’s view, still are. So, again, what has changed?…

In short, when it comes to policy prescriptions, Mr Blinder’s big new view amounts to nothing. Perhaps understanding this, he defends his grave new stance as constructive from a rhetorical point of view. He says he wants to save free trade from itself. “If we economists stubbornly insist on chanting ‘free trade is good for you’ to people who know that it is not, we will quickly become irrelevant to the public debate.” Yes, that is always a risk. But is it really going to be more effective to chant “you’re right, free trade is bad for you”?

Let me suggest another approach. Keep on patiently explaining why, implausible as it seems to non-economists, liberal trade in goods and services really is good for importers and exporters alike. Explain why, odd as it may seem, offshoring really is no different. Keep arguing for policies that widen the gains and help the victims, to be sure, but never concede those main points, or suppose they do not need defending. No question, it is thankless and repetitive work, but until it can be offshored, we need Alan Blinder to pull his weight.

More along that line here.

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