Free Trade – A Comment I Left

Here’s a comment I left in this discussion at Brad DeLong’s blog:No Free Traders in Import-Competing Industries

“Dailey” left a comment beginning: “You simply can’t have one country that has created a moral component in economics–minimum wages, the right to associate, anti-discrimination laws, anti-child labor laws and environmental standards competing with countries that don’t have such standards and justify it under the banner of comparative advantage.

We saw what happened during the Industrial Revolution when the economic sector was given free rein. We are creating the same milieu internationally. As tariffs are removed industries can and do seek out low wage labor which is really just another name for powerless labor. “

My comment:

Dailey nails what is wrong with “free trade.” WE have minimum wages, worker safety regulations, etc. “They” don’t. And, suspiciously, the very same crowd that in the US is pushing to get rid of those protections here is pushing “free trade.”

Science is supposed to measure what happens. It is supposed to be DEscriptive not PREscriptive. Free trade economists are telling us what would happen “if only” people would act a certain way. But it looks to most people like a downward spiral – we lose jobs to Mexico and get poorer. Mexico loses jobs to Thailand and gets poorer. Thailand loses jobs to China and gets poorer. China might be getting richer but that isn’t going to benefit ANY of us in our lifetimes. And if China isn’t playing the game by the same rules as all the free traders, it’s not only never going to benefit the rest of us, we’re going to be REALLY sorry for handing the world’s prosperity to a communist dictatorship.

Here’s the deal — we can see with our own eyes that people are losing health insurance and pensions, and working longer hours, and getting deeper into debt while a very few rich people get vastly richer. It LOOKS like part of this is because jobs are being sent offshore. But it might be that the benefits of that free trade aren’t being shared, and wealth is being concentrated. Anyway, free trade is going to be blamed.

I’m NOT advocating protectionism. I think most people who currently oppose free trade want to see minimum wages, workers rights and unions for our trading partners so they BENEFIT and can afford to buy things from us, instead of the obvious downward spiral to the bottom that is OBVIOUSLY occurring now.