There was a big debate about this in the economics profession in the early 1990s. Not one single economist argued about the direction of trade’s effect — it was universally agreed that it was negative for [workers without college degrees]. Some said that trade’s effect was small, even very small. Some said it was large. But again, there was absolute unanimity that the net effect of trade on these workers was negative, and that trade had exacerbated inequality.
This is an edited version of my response on Maxspeak:
I have tried and tried to tell the DeLong people about this, but I don’t have the economic vocabulary. It turned out that they DID have the vocabulary, but refused to share it with me.
For a high proportion of the up-and-coming young Ivy League Democrats (Yglesias was the first I noticed), free trade has been an absolute value. What a bunch of ignorant fucks.
I have tried to point out that to these people the particular populations suffering from free trade are an essential part of the core Democratic constituency (labor, organized or not, including a hefty proportion of the “minority” vote), and that free trade is thus a perilous issue for Democrats. Their usual response is to make snarky remarks about “pandering to the core constituency”, often using the Republican code word for unions — “special interest group”.
Alan Blinder (recently at Talking Points Cafe) is a scholar of note, if I’m not mistaken, but when he writes about politics, he, like a lot of economists, swiftly starts cranking out unscientific cliches and slogans.
DeLong said once that the Clinton free trade policy was Part One of a two part plan. Part Two would have been compensation and retraining for displaced workers, but it never happened. DeLong did not seem nearly as embarassed as he should have. Basically Clinton tried to get his bipartisan program through with Republican votes while defying the Democrats in Congress, and then was shocked to find that the Republicans refused to support the Democratic part of the package.
Economists are really blind to politics, and as economists they have to be anti-labor. (Labor is a cost to be minimized). Krugman does amazingly well, but on free trade he’s the same as the rest. (It’s possible that his recent experiences have changed his thinking a little, as happened with Stiglitz.)
The supposedly-practical DLC business Democrats did a number of things which harmed the party in the long run. Their anti-labor bias was one part of it; their obliviousness to media concentration was another part of it; and their indifference to party-building was another part of it.
For what it’s worth, I’m convinced that all of them are much more comfortable with moderately conservative Republicans than with old-fashioned liberal Democrats. The Democratic Party has been weakened, but the DLC didn’t fail. For them, the goal was the destruction of the liberal Democrats, and they were successful in that.