Published on Sep 23, 2016
A lot of doom and gloom types say we’re living in dark times. But they’re wrong.
While there are real problems, the world has never been healthier, wealthier, and happier than it is today. Over a billion people have been lifted from dire poverty in just the past few decades.
What has contributed to this improvement of our well-being? The answer can be found in the evolution of economic and policy ideas.
But we can still do better. How will we solve today’s challenges and what breakthroughs will spark change tomorrow?
October 19, 2016
July 30, 2016
In the New York Review of Books, Jonathan Freedland looks at some of the significant factions of the Republican party who have not embraced Il Donalduce:
Yet this is not solely a revolt of “values conservatives” against the brash, thrice-married vulgarian from Queens — a battle of Iowa against New York, as Cruz likes to frame it. There are other fault-lines. Neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol (or Robert Kagan, who says he will vote for Hillary Clinton) oppose Trump too, as do foreign policy realists such as Brent Scowcroft. Some of this is personal: Scowcroft and others feel a strong loyalty to the Bush family, whose animus toward Trump is incandescent thanks to the billionaire’s trashing of Jeb. But policy substance has also played its part in Trump’s improbable achievement: he has managed to turn many disparate Republican strands — Log Cabin types and evangelicals, neocons and Bush 41 stalwarts, Wall Streeters and military brass — against him. (That these different elements have not been able to cohere around an alternative candidate or program helps, in part, to explain Trump’s success, but it does not make their opposition any less real.)
Trade is a crucial example. The GOP has long been the party of free trade; in 1993, Bill Clinton could only pass NAFTA with Republican votes. But now its nominee denounces such trade as a destroyer of American jobs, apparently seeing commerce as something the US should do to, rather than with, other countries. The result was the astonishing sight of a Republican presidential nominee, in his acceptance speech, bidding for the voters of an avowed socialist, Bernie Sanders, “because,” as Trump put it, “we will fix his biggest issue, trade deals.” The issue was hardly debated in Cleveland, but the shift is remarkable all the same. Trump has refashioned the GOP as the party of protectionism, advocating an approach Republicans previously denounced as a threat to American prosperity.
Similarly, Republicans have for decades enjoyed an advantage on national security, obliging the Democrats to match them on strength and military commitment. Trump has broken from that too. He implies a rupture not only from the neocon, democracy-spreading policies associated with Bush the son, but also with the engaged internationalism of Bush the father. Trump is seemingly uninterested in America’s traditional status as sheet-anchor of the international system, central in a series of interlocking alliances that have maintained relative order and stability since 1945. Instead, he took time out from Cleveland to tell The New York Times he did not believe in the cardinal principle underpinning NATO — that an attack on one member is an attack on all — and that, as president, he would only defend one of the Baltic states from hypothetical Russian invasion if he deemed that state to have been paying its proper dues. Put aside the huge implications of such a shift for global security. Trump is turning his back on decades of Republican Party doctrine.
That’s true on the scale of government, too, with Trump implicitly advocating gargantuan powers for an imperial presidency: “I alone can fix this problem,” he says of crime, ISIS, immigration and much else. That’s quite a change for a party that has long regarded it as an article of faith that government is the problem and never the solution.
Republicans alarmed at these developments are not quite sure what will be worse: for Trump to lose or for Trump to win. Some have persuaded themselves that a Trump victory is best for America, simply because Hillary Clinton must not be president. (One Utah delegate, anguished about Trump’s “rough edges,” told me he believed Clinton was “evil.”)
But others are terrified by the possibility of a Trump victory. If that happens, they fear, the upheaval of 2016 will become permanent: the Republican Party will be reshaped in Trump’s image. It will be protectionist, nativist, authoritarian, and the vehicle for an exclusively white rage. Richard Tafel recoils so sharply from that prospect, he is talking seriously of forming a new party of the center-right. He’s already had conversations with “some of the wealthiest” CEOs and others, worried that Trumpism does not respect the prudent, cautious, free-market conservatism they value. For millennials especially, Tafel says, Trump is making the Republican Party a “toxic brand.”
The biggest challenge to forming a new political party is that the current system is completely rigged in favour of the two big parties to the extent that even long-established third parties like the Libertarians and the Greens still have to spend vastly disproportional efforts (and funds) just trying to get their candidates onto the ballot. A new “centre-right” party would face the same problem — and neither of the two big beneficiaries of the current system will be eager to see their institutional advantages eroded.
July 21, 2016
At the heart of [Trump’s] argument is the belief that selling to countries is good and buying from them is bad, the crude mercantilist fallacy that Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations debunked in the same year that America embraced the Declaration of Independence. Smith, the brilliant British political economist, argued that unless people start eating gold bullion, the point of wealth is to buy not sell; to consume not produce. If China starts shipping free plasma TVs to America, a few American companies may be thrown out of business, but American consumers will be better off. What’s more, they’ll be able to spend their savings on goods from other companies. The only folks that protectionist policies benefit are crony capitalists who face less competition — the very thing that Trump says he’s fighting.
Shikha Dalmia, “Donald Trump’s free-trade follies”, The Week, 2016-06-30.
June 26, 2016
In his latest column at the National Post, Colby Cosh wonders why Canadian pundits have been so strongly pro-EU when their other mode is to reject anything resembling an EU-style relationship with our own largest trading partner:
I might have voted Remain myself if my great-grandparents’ generation hadn’t lit out for the great plains, but isn’t there something obviously unusual about our view of the transatlantic frenzy? Canada is a political entity defined by its perpetual rejection of a continental political union. No one here, at all, ever expresses any doubt about the wisdom of that rejection. It costs us all hard cash, every day, to not be the 51st state. Yet we keep the Americans at bay, preserving the freedom to make arrangements on trade and defence on a basis (or pretence?) of mutual, separate sovereignty. We do this even though we share a common tongue with Americans, and they are much more similar to us culturally and ideologically than an Englishman is to an Estonian.
Look at the list of imprecations being hurled at Leave voters Friday, many of them by Canadians. They’re “small-minded,” “isolationist,” “short-sighted,” “fact-blind,” “racist” countryside boobs without vision or understanding. Couldn’t all these epithets be turned on us like a gun-barrel? Who speaks for, even contemplates, the discarded project of American Union — which was once a lively concern, actively advocated by some of the first people to call themselves Canadian in the modern sense?
If the sheer craziness of Canada’s Remain sympathies weren’t obvious enough, the intellectual leaders of the Leave camp are constantly upholding Canada as a model for immigration policy, with its self-interested, skill-privileging, but globally indiscriminate points system. They also cite us as an obvious potential partner for the kind of bilateral trade deal Britain will now be free to pursue on its own. Basically, the Leave campaigners didn’t put it this way or incorporate it into a slogan, but they want the U.K.’s relationship with Europe — a polyglot kaleidoscope of radically dissimilar nation states, some of them failing — to be the same friendly, wary relationship Canada has with the United States.
What in Hades could possibly be wrong with that, as a basic proposition?
April 14, 2016
ESR explains why the Trans-Pacific Partnership is such a huge monstrosity of regulations, crony capitalist favours to big business, anti-consumer intellectual property rules, and other mercantilist interventions in trade:
Today there’s a great deal of angst going on in the tech community about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Its detractors charge that a “free-trade” agreement has been hijacked by big-business interests that are using it to impose draconian intellectual-property rules on the entire world, criminalize fair use, obstruct open-source software, and rent-seek at the expense of developing countries.
These charges are, of course, entirely correct. So here’s my question: What the hell else did you expect to happen? Where were you idiots when the environmentalists and the unions were corrupting the process and the entire concept of “free trade”?
The TPP is a horrible agreement. It’s toxic. It’s a dog’s breakfast. But if you stood meekly by while the precedents were being set, or – worse – actually approved of imposing rich-world regulation on poor countries, you are partly to blame.
The thing about creating political machinery to fuck with free markets is this: you never get to be the last person to control it. No matter how worthy you think your cause is, part of the cost of your behavior is what will be done with it by the next pressure group. And the one after that. And after that.
The equilibrium is that political regulatory capability is hijacked by for the use of the pressure group with the strongest incentives to exploit it. Which generally means, in Theodore Roosevelt’s timeless phrase, “malefactors of great wealth”. The abuses in the TPP were on rails, completely foreseeable, from the first time “environmental standards” got written into a trade agreement.
That’s why it will get you nowhere to object to the specifics of the TPP unless you recognize that the entire context in which it evolved is corrupt. If you want trade agreements to stop being about regulatory carve-outs, you have to stop tolerating that corruption and get back to genuinely free trade. No exemptions, no exceptions, no sweeteners for favored constituencies, no sops to putatively noble causes.
December 13, 2015
Last week, Kevin Williamson attempted to explain why the Trans Pacific Partnership isn’t all that similar to an actual “free trade” agreement (and why that’s so):
Prominent among the reasons to look askance at TPP is that its text calls for the incorporation — sight unseen — of whatever global-warming deal is negotiated at the conference currently under way in Paris. It is one thing for a trade deal to incorporate changes to environmental practices — regulatory differences are an inhibitor of truly liberal trade — but there is a world of difference between incorporating specific environmental policies and incorporating environmental policies to be named later.
It would be preferable if we could simply enact a series of bilateral “Goldberg treaties,” so called in honor of my colleague Jonah Goldberg, who argued that an ideal free-trade pact would consist of one sentence: “There shall be free trade between …” But the unhappy reality is that the snouts of the nations’ sundry regulatory apparatuses are so far up the backsides of various industries and economic sectors that sorting them out requires thousands of pages of text. Consider, for example, the problem of defense-acquisition practices. Some countries have rules mandating that defense procurement be restricted to domestic firms, and some countries don’t. Coming up with a harmonized, one-size-fits-all approach is difficult; we Americans, accustomed as we are to operating in an economy that produces the best of almost everything in the world, sometimes forget that there are countries with no domestic aerospace industry or sophisticated manufacturers of military materiel. Of course Kuwait goes abroad for military gear; if memory serves, at one point their air force uniforms were made by Armani.
All of which is to say, we should expect trade deals, especially multi-lateral trade deals, to be complex, and we should expect environmental and labor standards, along with government procurement procedures and the like, to be part of the accord. There’s no getting around it. And, again, there is nothing wrong in principle with using trade accords, which have real economic bite, as a critical instrument for enforcing environmental rules and other regulatory reforms that are incorporated into trade relationships. But using TPP to commit the United States to whatever is cooked up in Paris, without an additional vote in Congress, is a poor tradeoff. It’s not often that I will turn up my nose at a trade deal — even far-from-perfect trade pacts are generally desirable — but here we should draw the line. TPP was negotiated, Congress and the public have had a chance to review the text, and Congress should reject it. That’s the system working, not the system failing to work. It’s why we have votes.
November 18, 2015
Published on 22 Feb 2015
Adam Smith was one of the first men who explored economic connections in England and made clear, in a time when Mercantilism reigned, that the demands of the market should determine the economy and not the state. In his books Smith was a strong advocator of the free market economy. Today we give you the biography of the man behind the classic economic liberalism and how his ideas would change the world forever.
October 21, 2015
Another post I stashed away, intending to blog and then somehow forgot … Dan Mitchell on the two main varieties of statist supporters:
At the risk of oversimplifying, there are two types of statists.
The first type is generally insincere and simply views bigger government and increased dependency as a strategy to obtain and preserve political power. Most inside-the-beltway leftists in Washington are in this category.
The second type genuinely cares about the less fortunate but makes the mistake of thinking that good intentions somehow lead to good results. You could call these people the Pope Francis leftists.
As you might imagine, there’s very little hope of persuading the first category of statists. You could show them all the data and evidence in the world, for instance, that a flat tax would boost prosperity, and they’ll simply shrug and tell you to jump in a lake because genuine tax reform would reduce the power and influence of Washington’s political elite.
But the second group of statists should be persuadable. That’s why I share so many comparisons of nations with smaller government and freer markets versus countries with bigger government and more intervention. I want open-minded folks on the other side to see how good policy leads to better economic performance, particularly since the poor will be big beneficiaries. That should be compelling, especially when combined with the data on how the welfare state simply traps poor people in government dependency.
October 9, 2015
Published on 24 Jun 2015
In this Everyday Economics video, Don Boudreaux addresses one of your viewer-submitted questions: “Is everyone better off if we buy local?”
In a modern economy, it’s hard to say that anything is truly “local.” Even an apple grown at a nearby farm isn’t a “local” good — everything from the fertilizer used to feed the trees to the wooden crates that carry the apples to market are likely made elsewhere. And, the profits the farmer makes from selling his apples are likely not spent locally — for instance, he may buy a tractor or supplies manufactured far away.
This video also takes a look at what would happen if you could direct your money locally. Would it benefit the local economy? How many businesses could survive solely on local business? What happens to specialization and productivity when we shrink markets? What about prices and variety of goods? Let’s take a look.
October 7, 2015
We don’t know what’s in it, so it could be a multi-national version of “we have to pass it to find out what’s in it”. Megan McArdle manages to raise one cheer for the agreement:
I’ve spent the morning reading about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I went in prepared to deliver a column full of details, winners and losers, strong opinions about the good provisions and the bad. But what really comes to mind is a dismal thought: “Is this the best we can do?”
Oh, yes, I know the statistics. Forty percent of the world’s economy. Thousands of tariffs falling. I know the opposition points too, about giveaways to business, intellectual property rules, outsourcing jobs. No one is talking about the larger story, though, which is that the biggest trade news in a decade involves a regional deal of relatively limited impact.
It was not always thus. When I was a fledgling journalist, a wee slip of a thing, we economics writers looked to major global trade negotiations to advance the cause of freer markets, and not incidentally, the material progress of mankind. We looked down on regional side-deals because they were such weak tea compared with the robust brew of a global agreement. Regional deals distorted the flow of trade, encouraging people not to exploit comparative advantage and production capabilities, but rather to seek the best combination of tariff rules from among competing regional frameworks. I have heard arguments that such deals, by distorting trade and weakening the pressure to make global deals, were actually worse than doing nothing. Indeed, I may have made such arguments.
You don’t hear those arguments any more, and that’s because we free-traders have largely given up on global trade agreements. The Doha round of World Trade Organization talks collapsed in the face of European agricultural protectionism and intransigence among countries with large numbers of subsistence farmers. Nativism, protectionism, nationalism seem to be rising as a political force in many countries. Global trade volumes are looking anemic. In this climate, regional agreements seem attractive, in much the same way that the remaining bar patrons assume a winsome glow around closing time.
How have things come to such an unpretty pass?
September 27, 2015
His Holiness the Pope would do far better for the remaining billion truly poor people on the planet if he ignored the blandishments of the anti-capitalists and looked at the actual track record of free enterprise in the developing world:
He has been called the “slum pope” and “a pope for the poor.” And indeed, it’s true that Pope Francis, leader to 1.3 billion Roman Catholics, speaks often of those in need. He’s described the amount of poverty and inequality in the world as “a scandal” and implored the Church to fight what he sees as a “culture of exclusion.”
Yet even as he calls for greater concern for the marginalized, he broadly and cavalierly condemns the market-driven economic development that has lifted a billion people out of extreme poverty within the lifetime of the typical millennial. A lack of understanding of even basic economic concepts has led one of the most influential and beloved human beings on the planet to decry free enterprise, opine that private property rights must not be treated as “inviolable,” hold up as the ideal “cooperatives of small producers” over “economies of scale,” accuse the Western world of “scandalous level[s] of consumption,” and assert that we need “to think of containing growth by setting some reasonable limits.”
Given his vast influence, which extends far beyond practicing Catholics, this type of rhetoric is deeply troubling. It’s impossible to know how much of an impact his words are having on concrete policy decisions — but it’s implausible to deny that when he calls for regulating and constraining the free markets and economic growth that alleviate truly crushing poverty, the world is listening. As a libertarian who is also a devout Roman Catholic, I’m afraid as well that statements like these from Pope Francis reinforce the mistaken notion that libertarianism and religion are fundamentally incompatible.
There’s no question that the pope at times seems downright hostile to much of what market-loving Catholics believe. In this summer’s lauded-by-the-press environmental encyclical Laudato Si (from which the quotes in the second paragraph were drawn), Pope Francis wrote that people who trust the invisible hand suffer from the same mindset that leads to slavery and “the sexual exploitation of children.” In Evangelii Gaudium, his 2013 apostolic exhortation, he chastised those who “continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world.”
Even more frustratingly, he asserted that such a belief in free markets “has never been confirmed by the facts.” Worse still, this year he stated in an interview: “I recognize that globalization has helped many people to lift themselves out of poverty, but it has condemned many other people to starve. It is true that in absolute terms the world’s wealth has grown, but inequality and poverty have arisen.” Globalization has caused poverty to “arise” and “condemned…many people to starve”?
A man Politico described as insisting “reality comes before theory” could not be more mistaken about the empirical truth of capitalism’s role in our world. While income inequality within developed countries may be growing, the income gap between the First World and the rest of the world is decreasing fast. As the World Bank’s Branko Milanovic has documented, we are in the midst of “the first decline in global inequality between world citizens since the Industrial Revolution.” In 1960, notes the Cato Institute’s Marian Tupy, the average America earned 11 times more than the average resident of Asia. Today, Americans make 4.8 times as much. “The narrowing of the income gap,” Tupy found, “is a result of growing incomes in the rest of the world,” not a decline in incomes in developed nations.
September 23, 2015
Published on 24 Jun 2014
What can a small, isolated island economy teach the rest of the world about the nature and causes of the wealth of nations? When Tasmania was cut off from mainland Australia, it experienced the miracle of growth in reverse, as the reduction in trade and human cooperation forced its inhabitants back to the most basic ways of living. In an economy with a greater number of participants trading goods and services, however, there are more ways to find a comparative advantage and earn more by creating the most value for others. Let’s join Bob and Ann as they teach us the “Story of Comparative Advantage” like you’ve never seen it before.
September 7, 2015
Published on 25 Feb 2015
In this video, we discuss some of the most common arguments against international trade. Does trade harm workers by reducing the number of jobs in the U.S.? Is it wrong to trade with countries that use child labor? Is it important to keep a certain number of jobs at home for national security reasons? Can strategic protectionism increase well-being in the U.S.? Join us as we discuss these common concerns.
September 2, 2015
Published on 25 Feb 2015
We’ll look at the costs and consequences of tariffs, quotas, and protectionism. How do tariffs affect consumers? What about producers? Who wins and who loses? Find out with this video.
We’ll apply the fundamentals we learned in the supply, demand, and equilibrium section of this course to real-world examples — like that of protectionism in the U.S. sugar industry — to determine lost gains from trade or deadweight loss, the tariff equilibrium vs. the free trade equilibrium, and the value of wasted resources as a result of tariffs.
August 27, 2015
Published on 25 Feb 2015
Make sure you’ve completed the homework introduced in the Comparative Advantage video before you watch this video, as we’ll be going over the answer. We take a look at our example which compares shirt and computer production and consumption in Mexico and the United States. At the end of this video, you’ll have a better understanding of why it makes sense for countries to engage in trade.