Archive for the 'FreeTrade' Category

Open Letter To Bernie Sanders

A great post by my second favorite economist:

You want to raise the minimum wage and prevent what you allege to be “corporately backed” freer trade. Your positions are inconsistent with each other.

Presumably you believe that higher minimum wages (contrary to the prediction of basic economic reasoning) cause no, or only vanishingly few, low-skilled workers to lose their jobs. That is, you believe that employers respond to higher minimum wages in ways that do not include further economizing on the amounts of low-skilled labor they employ. Put differently, in your analysis of the minimum wage, domestic employment isn’t at all sensitive to wage rates.

Yet you oppose the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement because you are convinced that the freer trade this agreement spawns will “allow corporations to outsource even more jobs overseas.” So when the topic at hand is international trade, you believe that domestic employment is sensitive to wage rates.

Can you explain why firms cannot or will not substitute out of higher-cost labor (say, by using labor-saving machinery) when the minimum wage rises, but are eager and able to substitute out of higher-cost labor when tariffs fall?

The Coming Manufacturing Boom – In Mexico

Via Yglesiais:

They say that “[a] tipping point was reached in 2012, when average manufacturing costs in Mexico, adjusted for productivity, dropped below those of China.” In other words, rising real wages for Chinese manufacturing workers mean that unit labor costs in Mexico are now just as low. Meanwhile, thanks to NAFTA and geography, it’s much cheaper to export American natural gas to Mexico than to ship it to Asia through LNG ports. So right now “electricity costs are around 4 percent lower in Mexico than in China, for example, while the average price of industrial natural gas is 63 percent lower.” Add to that the fact that Mexico has an advantageous location in terms of shipping products to American and Canadian consumers and the logic looks pretty compelling—Mexico is going to be the factory location of choice for many companies.

More here.

Free Trade And NAFTA

Non-economists often debate the merits of free trade and/or NAFTA. But if you ask economists, they are nearly unanimously in agreement in favor of both:

None of the economists surveyed disagreed that the gains to freer trade are much larger than any costs. And only two economists even said that the answer is uncertain. In a space for additional comments, MIT’s Richard Schmalensee declared “If that’s not right, almost all of economics is wrong”.

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.

Full post here. Survey here.

The Progressive Magazine On Ha-Joon Chang’s Book

I got back from a five day trip to Chicago yesterday, and as such, was able to catch up on a lot of my magazine reading. A review that caught my attention was Amitabh Pal, of The Progressive Magazine, review of Ha-Joon Chang’s recent book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. For those unfamiliar with Ha-Joon Chang, he is a heterodox economist who is a prominent supporter of industrial policy – a view largely shunned by mainstream economists.

Amitabh Pal gives a list of the positives and negatives of the book (some I agree with, some I don’t) but the part of the review that most caught my attention was this part:

Chang’s Achilles heel is his fixation with industrial policy, which he views as the road to salvation for poorer nations. Only if countries protect their infant industries, nurture them in various ways, and allow them to mature can they ascend to prosperity, he says.

But a number of nations have tried this with little success, the biggest example being India, where family-run conglomerates used protectionist policies to instead foist the most shoddy, substandard products on hapless Indian consumers (the dominant car model until the late 1980s was based on a 1950s British Morris Oxford).

The obvious difference between India and Chang’s native  South Korea was that big business in India held sway over the state, rather than the other way around in South Korea, as delineated in Vivek Chibber’s Locked In Place: State-Building and Late Industrialization in India. Chang sidesteps such issues.

What I find most interesting is that  Amitabh Pal’s rebuttal is nearly identical to the standard economic criticism of industrial policy: namely, if a countries government is independent enough to properly implement industrial policy, the country likely doesn’t need it, and if the government is too corrupt, industrial policy only makes things worse.

I find it interesting that one of the most prominent proponents of industrial policy, in arguing for industrial policy, completely avoids dealing with a central criticism head on. But I admit, I have personally not read the book – so maybe Amitabh Pal completely missed it?

I cannot seem to find the online version of the review, but it was listed in the printed edition of April’s publication.

The New Global Elites

Last months issue of the Atlantic had a fascinating article on the global elites, here are some snippets I found interesting:

From a global perspective, the impact of these developments has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly in the poorer parts of the world. Take India and China, for example: between 1820 and 1950, nearly a century and a half, per capita income in those two countries was basically flat. Between 1950 and 1973, it increased by 68 percent. Then, between 1973 and 2002, it grew by 245 percent, and continues to grow strongly despite the global financial crisis.  …

Or this:

One reason for the spikes is that the global market and its associated technologies have enabled the creation of a class of international business megastars. As companies become bigger, the global environment more competitive, and the rate of disruptive technological innovation ever faster, the value to shareholders of attracting the best possible CEO increases correspondingly. Executive pay has skyrocketed for many reasons—including the prevalence of overly cozy boards and changing cultural norms about pay—but increasing scale, competition, and innovation have all played major roles.

Or this:

But while their excesses seem familiar, even archaic, today’s plutocrats represent a new phenomenon. The wealthy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s era were shaped, he wrote, by the fact that they had been “born rich.” They knew what it was to “possess and enjoy early.”

That’s not the case for much of today’s super-elite. “Fat cats who owe it to their grandfathers are not getting all of the gains,” Peter Lindert told me. “A lot of it is going to innovators this time around. There is more meritocracy in Bill Gates being at the top than the Duke of Bedford.” Even Emmanuel Saez, who is deeply worried about the social and political consequences of rising income inequality, concurs that a defining quality of the current crop of plutocrats is that they are the “working rich.” He has found that in 1916, the richest 1 percent of Americans received only one-fifth of their income from paid work; in 2004, that figure had risen threefold, to 60 percent.

Peter Peterson, for example, is the son of a Greek immigrant who arrived in America at age 17 and worked his way up to owning a diner in Nebraska; his Blackstone co-founder, Stephen Schwarzman, is the son of a Philadelphia retailer. And they are hardly the exceptions. Of the top 10 figures on the 2010 Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans, four are self-made, two (Charles and David Koch) expanded a medium-size family oil business into a billion-dollar industrial conglomerate, and the remaining four are all heirs of the self-made billionaire Sam Walton. Similarly, of the top 10 foreign billionaires, six are self-made, and the remaining four are vigorously growing their patrimony, rather than merely living off it. It’s true that few of today’s plutocrats were born into the sort of abject poverty that can close off opportunity altogether— a strong early education is pretty much a precondition—but the bulk of their wealth is generally the fruit of hustle and intelligence (with, presumably, some luck thrown in). They are not aristocrats, by and large, but rather economic meritocrats, preoccupied not merely with consuming wealth but with creating it.

One of the parts that especially struck me was this:

The good news—and the bad news—for America is that the nation’s own super-elite is rapidly adjusting to this more global perspective. The U.S.-based CEO of one of the world’s largest hedge funds told me that his firm’s investment committee often discusses the question of who wins and who loses in today’s economy. In a recent internal debate, he said, one of his senior colleagues had argued that the hollowing-out of the American middle class didn’t really matter. “His point was that if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade,” the CEO recalled.

I’ve made this argument several times to a friend at work. He is someone who always pouts and complains every time he hears about another branch of our company operating overseas. I try to explain to him the benefits of free-trade, how it’s not a zero sum economy and more jobs overseas does not mean less jobs here. But even if what he is saying is true, I argue, you have to look at this from a global perspective. More jobs in India, China, and other developing countries has to be a good thing, even if it means less jobs in the richest country in the world. I mean, these are the worlds poorest people and we are the worlds richest people. We will, in the end, be okay.

This point should be especially persuasive to him, as he is a guy who has a bachelors degree from UCSD, graduating top of his class, a perfect score on the GRE, and a masters from Stanford University. All in the most sought after field, electrical engineering. But still, my arguments largely fall on deaf ears.

Why Isn’t Mexico Rich Yet?

An economics professor at UCSD explains:

Over the last three decades, Mexico has aggressively reformed its economy, opening to foreign trade and investment, achieving fiscal discipline, and privatizing state-owned enterprises. Despite these efforts, the country’s economic growth has been lackluster, trailing that of many other developing nations. In this paper, I review arguments for why Mexico hasn’t sustained higher rates of economic growth. The most prominent suggest that some combination of poorly functioning credit markets, distortions in the supply of non-traded inputs, and perverse incentives for informality creates a drag on productivity growth. These are factors internal to Mexico. One possible external factor is that the country has the bad luck of exporting goods that China sells, rather than goods that China buys. I assess evidence from recent literature on these arguments and suggest directions for future research.

Link via Freakonomics blog here.

Update: Steve Sailor has more.

Buy American Is Meaningless


Why the “Buy American” campaign is just another union power grab and should be ignored.

Quote Of The Day

“Tax policy toward American multinational firms would appear to be approaching a crossroads. The presumed linkages between domestic employment conditions and the growth of foreign operations by American firms have led to calls for increased taxation on foreign operations – the so-called end to tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas. At the same time, the current tax regime employed by the U.S. is being abandoned by the two remaining large capital exporters – the UK and Japan – that had maintained similar regimes. The conundrum facing policymakers is how to reconcile mounting pressures for increased tax burdens on foreign activity with the increasing exceptionalism of American policy. This paper address these questions by analyzing the available evidence on two related claims – i) that the current U.S. policy of deferring taxation of foreign profits represents a subsidy to American firms and ii) that activity abroad by multinational firms represents the displacement of activity that would have otherwise been undertaken at home. These two tempting claims are found to have limited, if any, systematic support. Instead, modern welfare norms that capture the nature of multinational firm activity recommend a move toward not taxing the foreign activities of American firms, rather than taxing them more heavily. Similarly, the weight of the empirical evidence is that foreign activity is a complement, rather than a substitute, for domestic activity. Much as the formulation of trade policy requires resisting the tempting logic of protectionism, the appropriate taxation of multinational firms requires a similar fortitude.” — Mihir Desai, professor at Harvard Business School

Quote Of The Day

“Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough. Talk to these families in the dump, and a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere often have for their children…sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty. At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.” — Nicholas Kristof , writing in the New York Times

Quote Of The Day

“What would you call a group of economists who are skeptical of regulating mortgage markets, who think unemployment insurance and unions increase unemployment, who say that tax hikes retard economic growth, and who believe that the recovery from the Great Depression was a monetary phenomenon rather than the result of New Deal fiscal policy? No, it is not a right-wing cabal. It’s Team Obama.” — Greg Mankiw, Harvard Professor of economics on Obama’s economic team

Quote Of The Day

“Free trade with Colombia can’t have anything to do with loss of US jobs: Colombia’s exports already enter the US duty-free. Rather, the Free Trade Agreement would reduce remaining Colombian barriers to imports from the US….It is hard to escape the conclusion that the only reason Congressmen are opposing the Colombian free trade agreement is to pander to ill-informed American public opinon. ” —Jeff Frankel, professor of economics at Harvard University

Quote Of The Day

Trade is just one manifestation of consumer sovereignty. Just as there are, by Blinder’s calculus, winners and losers from consumers shifting their expenditures from goods made in America to goods made abroad, there are winners and losers from consumers shifting their expenditures from goods made in Illinois to goods made in Arizona – and from consumers shifting their expenditures from donuts, beef, cigarettes, whiskey, and train travel to bagels, fish, yoga lessons, wine, and air travel. Trade plays no unique, or uniquely important, role as an avenue of economic change spurred in part by consumer sovereignty. The only practical way to rid the economy of such “loses” is to try to freeze it, a futile step that will in the long-run only make losers of everyone.” — Don Boudreaux, professor of economics at George Mason University

Democrats Will Improve Our Image Abroad?

It looks like they are making the problem worse:

Candidates rebuked for attacks on Nafta

Mexico and Canada on Wednesday voiced concern about calls by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, as the Democratic presidential hopefuls compete to adopt the most sceptical stance towards free trade ahead of next week’s Ohio primary election.

In a televised debate on Tuesday night, Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton both threatened to pull out of Nafta if elected president unless Canada and Mexico agreed to strengthen labour and environmental standards.

Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the US, told the Financial Times that the US, Canada and Mexico had all benefited from Nafta and warned against reopening negotiations.

“Mexico does not support reopening Nafta,” he said. “It would be like throwing a monkey wrench into the engine of North American competitiveness.”

Mexican diplomats believe a renegotiation could resurrect the commercial disputes and barriers to trade that the agreement itself was designed to overcome.

Jim Flaherty, Canada’s finance minister, also expressed “concern” about the remarks by the Democratic candidates.

“Nafta is a tremendous benefit to Americans and perhaps the [candidates] have not had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the benefit to Americans and the American economy of Nafta,” he said.

The full article from the Financial Times can be found here.

Tufts professor Daniel Drezner comments: “I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Democrats cannot simultaneously talk about improving America’s standing abroad while acting like a belligerent unilateralist when it comes to trade policy.”

Update: The economist has more.

“Buy American” Is Alot Like Racism


So argues University of Rochester Economics Professor Steven E. Landsburg. Do you agree or disagree? If you disagree, I’d be interested in knowing why.

Quote Of The Day

Gustavo Vega, director of the Center for International Studies at the prestigious Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City, said that while NAFTA has helped create more jobs for Mexicans, it has not helped create enough of them. Still, had it not been for passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, Mexico would have suffered a much-greater financial crisis after its economy crashed in December 1994, he said. “It helped us to recover from the crisis sooner rather than later,” Vega told the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California San Diego on Tuesday.” — San Diego Union Tribune

Fed Chair On Free Trade and Globalization

Ben Bernanke gives his thoughts on Globalization:

Trade benefits advanced countries like the United States, but open trade is, if anything, even more important for developing nations. Trade and globalization are lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, especially in Asia, but also in parts of Africa and Latin America. As a source of economic growth and development in poor countries, trade is proving far more effective than traditional development aid.

To sum up, international trade in goods, services, and assets, like other forms of market-based exchange, allows us to transform what we have into what we need or want under increasingly beneficial terms. Trade allows us to enjoy both a more productive economy and higher living standards.

With our strong institutions, deep capital markets, flexible labor markets, technological leadership, and penchant for entrepreneurship and innovation, no country is better placed than the United States to benefit from increased participation in the global economy. If we resist protectionism and isolationism while working to increase the skills and adaptability of our labor force, the forces of globalization and trade will continue to make our economy stronger and our citizens more prosperous.

His full remarks can be found here.