Sunday, September 11, 2016

Not the full story

Millions of Americans have gone through some sort of college, taken the standard principles of economics course, and heard about specialization and trade. Exchange means more consumption and more consumer well-being. Prices are lower, variety is greater, as is innovation. Consumer sovereignty is the best way to allocate scarce resources.

Strangely, however, the simple story is ignored in standard political discourse. Trump, Clinton, Sanders and all the others only talk about jobs lost (trade) or gained (protection). Cronyism, xenophobia and ignorance are a miserable brew. Among the ironies is the fact that most Americans do poorly in school (by international standards, OECD PISA comparisons) yet live very well (again, by international standards). The apparent irony cannot ever be addressed if terms of trade are never explained.

I had hoped for clarification via Nathaniel Popper in today's NY Times, "We know plenty about the losers in global trade. Why don't we know more about the winners?" But he too sticks to the jobs gained vs jobs lost narrative.

Live to work or work to live? Most people would say it's the latter. But even the smart people, like Popper for example, only highlight the work part. It is not the full story. In fact, it's misleading.