March 11, 2004

Still More Lessons--But This Time for the Already Developed

COMMENT ON MONTEK AHLUWALIA, "LESSONS FROM INDIAN DEVELOPMENT"

WORLD BANK "PRACTITIONERS OF DEVELOPMENT" LECTURE SERIES; MARCH 10, 2004

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Still More Lessons--But This Time for the Already Developed

J. Bradford DeLong

1518 Words

Let me start by complimenting Montek Ahluwalia for his paper--his admirable overview of the waves of broadly and remarkably good news about development that have been coming out of India for nearly two decades. The remarkable boost to Indian growth in response to the (relatively gradualist) reform program, to what extent were (as Dani Rodrik argues in his attempt to create space for social democracy in a neoliberal world) many of the seeds of the past two decades' rapid growth sown by previous investments in social capital and infrastructure, whether reforms were properly sequenced, whether reforms were properly paced, and what remains to be done, both in politics and in economic policy, to build on the successes of the past two decades--these are the kinds of questions that the "Practitioners of Development" lecture series should address and needs to address. Dr. Ahluwalia has demonstrated that he is a perfect choice, both because of his skills as an economic analyst and his skills and experience as a policy maker, to speak in this lecture series.

I could talk for an hour at least on any of a number of issues raised in his paper, many of which he mentions only in passing. I could talk about his reflections on technocrats' ability to push the limits of the politically-possible in the economic reform process; about the importance of political debate in generating legitimacy for privatization and other reforms; about the importance of an open process (and also provide a sideways look at privatization-by-decree in Latin America, where the sudden and top-down process can generate both deserved and undeserved backlash as privatization is viewed, sometimes fairly and sometimes unfairly, as another channel which corrupt elites can use to exploit the people); about political democracy as a meta-institution for building good institutions. I could talk about sequencing, and how proper sequencing can build support for reform to the extent that the most clearly win-win reforms can be done first; about the danger that too slow a process of sequencing and too gradual a process of reform can dissipate political energy; about how the example of India shows that a reform program can maintain forward momentum even through major changes in the political climate; about liberalization of the capital account; about how India has dragged its feet on reform of its small-scale enterprise preferences; about the problems of reform in a federal system where some of the states are not grasping opportunities, and whether reform can be sustained for long if state governments do not grasp opportunities and if as a result the people of Utter Pradesh, Oudh, Bihar, and elsewhere see income gains flowing to the south and the east but not to them.

I could talk about any of these. I could talk about any of these for longer than the hour that Dr. Ahluwalia talked. But I have only ten minutes. And it seems to me that my value-added will be greatest if I talk about something else, about one of the few things Dr. Ahluwalia did not talk about, about what has to happen inside the rich post-industrial core of the world economy for development to be successful and rapid over the next two generations.

The goal is clear. The goal is a truly human--or at least a more human, more humane--world: a world in which the number of people who live lives that are far too close to those of all of our pre-industrial ancestors is numbered at a hundred million rather than in the billions. In the case of India, we can already see a good way forward along its best development path. And its best development path leads through terrain where computers and telecommunications, fiber-optic cables and microprocessor switches, satellites and packet-switched networks, all make international trade in much of white-collar services (whether reading X-rays, supporting customers, reconciling bills) as cheap and as possible as the iron-hulled ocean-going steamship made trade in staple agricultural and industrial commodities in the late nineteenth century.

The gains from such services trade both for emerging markets at the periphery and for the rich post-industrial core are and will be immense and astronomical. But markets function beneath the aegis of politics. And will the political will in the core be there to encourage rather than to slow down the growth of this trade?

In late-nineteenth century Germany politics worked to slow down trade. When the army officer-landlords of Prussia and Pomerania in eastern Germany recognized that the proletarians of Hamburg wanted cheap bread made from imported wheat from Illinois rather than more costly bread from Baltic shore-grown rye, they struck an alliance with the steelmasters of the Ruhr: the alliance of iron and rye for tariffs on American grain and British manufactures and for a more authoritarian form of rule to make sure the government kept its thumb on the scales elevating industrial profits and agricultural rents and depressing real wages. In Alexander Gerschenkron's view, at least, as expressed in his _Bread and Democracy in Germany_, this was the moment at which German politics began to go totally, horribly wrong.

Now I don't think that America in the twenty-first century has any chance of repeating the foreign policy trajectory that Germany followed a hundred years ago and that made the first half of the twentieth century in Europe so... interesting.

But somewhere within three blocks of here, perhaps in an underground bunker in an undisclosed location, Council of Economic Advisers Chair N. Gregory Mankiw hides from incoming from Congressmen denouncing his statement that "outsourcing" could be a source of strength and prosperity rather than weakness and penury for the American economy.

This current wave of fear about "outsourcing" and trade in white-collar services will pass. It is a reflection not of the reality of the magnitude of such trade, but of economic problems that have their roots in too low a level of aggregate demand. As the U.S. output gap closes, fear will diminish. But it will return over the next generation, because the potential shifts in global employment that the workings of comparative advantage in tradeable services will produce may well be very large indeed.

And so it is very important that in our reflections on the practice of development we learn and disseminate lessons not just for relatively poor emerging market economies but for relatively rich post-industrial core ones. Much of the development successes of the past generation would have been severely attenuated had the core and especially the United States not been open to imports--the United States being the importer of last resort, as it were. And so it will be in the future.

So in addition to the lessons that Montek Ahluwalia has set out for the future of India and for economies and governments that might want to walk the road that India has begun to walk over the past two decades, I want to propose two lessons for the rich:

The first lesson that the rich need to learn needs to be taught by all those who export to the United States. They need to teach journalists, politicians, voters, and workers in the United States about all the American jobs that would not exist without their exports to America. They need to teach about all the benefits that flow from imports--both directly from users and purchasers and indirectly from the derived demand for U.S. exports that emerges as long as the Federal Reserve does its job properly and makes Say's Law hold in practice (even though it does not hold in theory). To make a truly human--humane--world over the next two generations, rich-country fear that expanding trade will destroy jobs and disrupt the economy needs to be overbalanced by fear that reducing or even failing to expand trade will destroy jobs and disrupt the economy.

The second lesson is one that those of us voting in the post-industrial core need to teach, and it is a lesson about national security. The twenty-first century will see civilization constantly at war against different forms of terrorism. An important part of that war will consist of wielding the foes of terrorism into a durable alliance, and increased world trade can be an important part of that alliance-building process.

Moreover, I want my American great-grandchildren to grow up in a future world in which children in India, China, and elsewhere are taught that America and the other rich countries did a lot to boost economic growth and development around the world early in the twenty-first century. I don't want them to grow up in a future world in which children elsewhere are taught that America and the other rich countries sought to keep them as poor as possible for as long as possible.

Posted by DeLong at March 11, 2004 06:22 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

>The goal is clear. The goal is a truly human--or at least a more human, more humane--world: a world in which the number of people who live lives that are far too close to those of all of our pre-industrial ancestors is numbered at a hundred million rather than in the billions.

That's a fine bit of message work.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on March 11, 2004 07:09 PM

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The Democrats' demoguery over "outsourcing" is a combination of racism, xenophobia, and economic illiteracy. John Kerry knows it's garbage, but he doesn't have the decency to admit it . The man is an utter slimemball.

Posted by: Joe Willingham on March 11, 2004 07:49 PM

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I understand comperative advantage, the insights and problems of the H-O model, etc. Yet it is not _obvious_ in 2004 that outsourcing will not happen at a faster clip than most economists currently claim, thereby presenting real political challenges.

It would be sweet revenge if Kerry were to beat Bush in November on the outsourcing issue after all the economic and WMD distortions which have come out of the President's mouth. I hope Kerry has a nice Bush style smirk for the outgoing president in January.

Posted by: Remo Williams on March 11, 2004 08:13 PM

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How one who understands that our "economic problems that have their roots in too low a level of aggregate demand" could write this piece is unbelievable

DeLong True or False. What the the number one and number two cause of the drop in demand?

Are they not the enslavement of the American worker on the twin impalers of outsourcing and immigration?

Posted by: Moe Levine on March 11, 2004 08:32 PM

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When it gets down to it - talking trade balances here - once we've brain-drained all our technology into other countries, once things evened out, they're making cars in Bolivia and microwave ovens in Tadzhikistan and selling them here - once our edge in natural resources has been made irrelevant by giant Hong Kong ships and dirigibles that can ship North Dacota all the way to New Zeland for a nickel - once the Invisible Hand has taken all those historical inequities and smeared them out into a broad global layer of what a Pakistani brickmaker would consider to be propserity - y'know what? There's only four things we do better than anyone else: music, movies, microcode (software) and high-speed pizza delivery. The Deliverator used to make software.

Neal Stevenson, Snow Crash

Posted by: a on March 11, 2004 09:19 PM

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How one who understands that our "economic problems that have their roots in too low a level of aggregate demand" could write this piece is unbelievable

DeLong True or False. What the the number one and number two cause of the drop in demand?

Are they not the enslavement of the American worker on the twin impalers of outsourcing and immigration?

Posted by: Moe Levine on March 11, 2004 09:26 PM

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DeLong writes:

"The goal is clear. The goal is a truly human--or at least a more human, more humane--world: a world in which the number of people who live lives that are far too close to those of all of our pre-industrial ancestors is numbered at a hundred million rather than in the billions."

I do not disagree. But my question is: can this goal be best achieved by deliberately misleading the American people about the implications of free trade?

When Paul Samuelson got up in the East Room of the White House on the eve of the Nafta vote, for example, and said "Protectionism never led to a rise in real wages" was he laying the foundations for a long-term committment to free trade?

Specifically, if free trade with populous poor countries like India and China is going to require a committment to income redistribution in the United States, to protect the living standards of most of our citizens, shouldn't this fact have been made clear at the outset?

As it is, we are in danger of demagogue coming along to exploit a most unfortunate situation, which Samuelson's (and indeed the entire economic profession's) lack of candor has contributed to.

Imagine if someone like Pat Buchanan is elected president in 2008 and slams on the protectionists brakes. The economic dislocation in China alone -- with its 40 million unemployed bachelors (courtesy of female infanticide and a one child per family policy)-- is not one that I would care to contemplate, and neither would any of her nearest neighbors who might have to contend with them.

In short, if we really care about the happiness and well-being of people around the world, don't we owe our own people an honest assessment of the realities of the situation, as economists such as Samuelson, Krugman, and Bhagwati know them to be?

Honesty is the best policy, and I only hope it is not too late.

Posted by: Luke Lea on March 11, 2004 09:34 PM

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In 1970, the percentage of our GDP spent on imports was about 4%, IIRC. Now it's 10 times that. My parents bought a house on a 15-yr mortgage, paid it off early, raised 2 kids, and my mom only kept the books for my dad. Now we're better off....how?
Higher standard of living due to 'Free Arbitrage of Labor'??? How??
A higher GDP don't mean **, if it all goes to the top .01%

Posted by: Jeff Lawson on March 11, 2004 09:40 PM

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Joseph Stiglitz has a column in Friday's Guardian on globalization, once again. It's nice to see a professional economist confirm something of what one has suspected all along. Would Prof. DeLong care to comment on it?

Posted by: john c. halasz on March 12, 2004 12:13 AM

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Brad de Long is somewhat confused on outsourcing, offshoring, and all that.

Yes, eventually things will work out, and eventually wage levels between the third world and the first world will sort of level off, and in the long run the greatest amount of economic development and the greatest amount of wealth will probably be created in a completely free-trade environment.

This does not mean that the greatest prosperity for the US middle classes will occur in such an environment. It does not mean that creating the greatest total amount of material wealth is a sensible goal. It does not mean that the US economy will be stable enough for families to prosper and raise another generation.

We do not have a free trade environment. Indian computer programmers are not going to be buying enough American wheat or weapons or widgets or websites to compensate for the cash flowing overseas.

Eventually the Indian economy will be more like the American and they will buy as much as they sell and adding India to the economy will be like adding another state to the union, or like trading with Europe and Japan. But eventually is not now and is not soon. And in the mean time certain sectors of US labor are unfairly targeted. These labor sectors are the "Good Jobs" everybody else was hoping to get for themselves and their children. These are the labor sectors that made companies like Microsoft and Oracle good for the US economy. These are the "Good jobs" that the guys laid of from US manufacturing jobs were training for.

What do the people laid off from the US call centers train themselves to do, be computer programmers? And what do the laid off programmers do, train to be radiologists?

Saying that offshoring is good for the US economy is like saying that the "Jobless recovery" is a recovery. It ain't. The Jobless recovery is a list of (hopefully) leading indicators. Offshoring jobs from Microsoft and Oracle to India is good from the Wall Street perspective, but not from the perspective of the actual Main Street shareholders, who will be living in a depressed economy with great economic numbers. Maybe America can live off the profits of investing in overseas business activity, while the US landscape is converted to a pure service economy of retail, medical care, online shopping, and a little construction work in the infrastructure segment. But I don't think so.

Maybe we can kick the Mexicans out of the country and former programmers, call center helpers, auto workers, office workers, and radiologists can go to work picking fruit, washing dishes, and cleaning offices and homes. With all the knowledge worker jobs overseas, nobody in the US will need to know anything to get a decent family wage. But I don't think so.

The pollyannas of exporting the economy say the country will float our standard of living on superior genetic engineering, smart bombs, military electronics, drug research, automated organic farming, and other boutiques of the economy. I don't think so. The Indian drug industry is already surging and the next step original drug research, which is mostly based on publicly available US funded University research anyway. Without the costly US regulatory environment, US drug companies may eventually have to take second seat to third world research and development labs.

Posted by: Warren on March 12, 2004 01:37 AM

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I think the problem is that Brad wants to have it both ways. He wants to condemn Bush for a jobless recovery and at the same time he wants to save his free trade credentials. So he is left with rather pathetic claims that the Republicans' main fault is not extending the unemployment benefits. These claims are pathetic since nobody is going to extend the unemployment benefits for 4 years it will take to retrain the software engineer as a nurse - and there is no certainity US will need nurses in 4 years anyway. Either dog-eat-dog "efficiency" and than Bush is right: you are obsolete, your education is worthless, go flip burgers or the society is responsible for its members and than (horror) the prices may be a few percent higher than they might have been if everything was "efficient". Of course, this "efficiency" never existed in the world of Enrons, Microsofts and Worldcoms but that does not prevent Brad from claiming that your job really belongs in India - so his grandchildren can be taught some thing or another - as if Chinese are going to let them to be taught anything but "yes, master".

Posted by: a on March 12, 2004 02:14 AM

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Software Engineers cannot train to be nurses while on unemployment insurance.

Nobody is permitted to attend school while accepting unemployment insurance. You gotta be out hitting the streets looking for work... It's called catch-22, I think.

Posted by: Warren on March 12, 2004 02:28 AM

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Luke Lea is a Realist, Mr. DeLong is an Idealist.

The juggernaught of consumption that we have adopted and taught the rest of the world, may result in Mr. Lea's prediction.

However, Americans and British are not stupid, we will have a sophisticated and talented group of mercenaries to head off the Chinese. Can you say the Indian Army.

I hope Mr. DeLongs vision becomes reality, but the concern of supplying the energy that is required to get the Indian and Chinese economies on par with America has not been addressed in his model. Unless you consider the all encompassing catch phrase - Technology will solve it.

Luke Lea the Realist wins the prediction prize.

Posted by: Greg Hunter on March 12, 2004 06:32 AM

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Jeff, we're better off because we're not driving Pintos. We're better off because our life expectancy is eight years longer. We're better off because twice as many Americans have some form of college education. We're better off because I have more computer power and storage at my desk than any company in the world did in 1970, and it cost me astonishingly little. We're better off because unlike 1970, when American prosperity was predicated on the rest of the world being unable to compete with us or steeped in economic misery, much of Asia is now effectively part of the Third World, which means that hundreds of millions of people who would never have gotten the chance to contribute to the sum of knowledge in the world are now doing so. We're better off because American corporations, which in 1970 were heading into an abyss of low productivity in part because they'd spent two and a half decades utterly insulated from real competition, have to perform against the best in the world or else lose. And we're better off because whatever we have now, we earned. I honestly can't believe anyone is nostalgic for America in the 1970s. There's not a chance in hell that I would go back there.

Posted by: Steve Carr on March 12, 2004 06:52 AM

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Sorry, that should have been "much of Asia is now effectively part of the First World."

Posted by: Steve Carr on March 12, 2004 06:56 AM

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Steve,

Excellent Point. However, the rise in technology and efficiency should have (in theory) produced a government the does more with less. This has not happened. I became a Republican because I believed in the good but efficient model. It turns out they are good at building weapons, but little else.

The loopholes in the flight of capital (tax avoidance) have enabled our current leadership to enrich arms dealers, but not invest in the future. If that capital lands somewhere else, but we are left with the bill, what World will we live in?

I am a confessed cynic, but what knowledge are we missing? It appears to have all been done. If your dream is that everyone can have a car or go into space, then President Bush has a vote in Mr. Steve Carr.

However, if you would like a world where people have descent food, valuable education and a productive way of life; our approach appears a little off. If we have the technology to do it, why don't we?

I grew up in the 1970's and it looks the same as this decade.

If the majority of Asia is considered First World by your account, could you sight a source that compares purchasing power of the Asians as compared to the other First World countries?

Posted by: Greg Hunter on March 12, 2004 07:51 AM

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Greg Hunter wrote:

"Luke Lea is a Realist, Mr. DeLong is an Idealist"

I dispute that. I am a realistic idealist, Mr. DeLong is a (possibly) misguided idealist.

Actually I'm not sure where he stands. One minute he intimates that economists know these things (about the down side of free trade), but there's plenty of evidence to suggest that most of them don't.

My current theory is that you can't both do calculus and understand economics -- with the single exception of Paul Samuelson, who suffers from an unusual ego disorder (when he was young he wanted to be thought of as the smartest man in the world). But that's just my opinion. . .

Posted by: Luke Lea on March 12, 2004 08:06 AM

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Steve: We are better off because of the technical progress. Free trade is one of the factors of that progress, not the only one or the most important one. 19th century Europe had a very free trade - Krugman had it in one of his books. However you would probably prefer to live in 1970s rather than 1870s.

Posted by: a on March 12, 2004 08:48 AM

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All the economists must do in order to preclude any protectionism is to point out the new employment fields that are going to blossom. Absent that, I would tend to bet that it will go the other way.

Posted by: Tim H. on March 12, 2004 08:55 AM

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The US Constitution created a free trade zone, people don't think of it that way generally, but it is important. Rapidly there was a realization that free trade zones implied other kinds of regulation.

The problem we have is not too much free trade and authority in international institutions, but too little.

Posted by: Stirling Newberry on March 12, 2004 09:03 AM

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Even the theorical basis for free trade does not necessarily apply today. Ricardo specificially stated that the benefits become problematic when the key factors of production are mobile. Like today.

Another detail most economists neglect to mention in their public speeches about free trade.

Posted by: Larry on March 12, 2004 09:46 AM

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"In 1970, the percentage of our GDP spent on imports was about 4%, IIRC. Now it's 10 times that."

First, imports as a percentage of GDP was about 5% in 1970, 13% in 2002. Not quite 10 times.

Second, I would like to take this opportunity to make a small observation. It seems that the division between free traders and protectionists is fairly well proxied by the division between those who are optimistic about the long-run prospect for growth in living standards, and those who believe that the average American worker is caught in a process of immiseration.

I know what side I'm on: the empirical and historical evidence is overwhelming on the side of the optimists. But that's not what I want to argue here.

Rather, let us assume that the pessimists are somehow right. Gains in living standards have come to an end, we have reached the limit of technological innovation, and the developed world will from now on stagnate while the developing world slowly catches up. The benefits of trade will still exist in such a world. In fact, it can be argued that free trade would be more important, not less, in this dismal scenario. After all, one of the better arguments against expending too much energy on achieving free trade is that the estimated gains to trade from specialization are rather small in the scheme of things: on the order of a few years' worth of growth in GDP. As long as productivity increases are giving us a steady rise in living standards decade after decade, what does it matter if we forego the gains to trade: it is no worse than having been born a few years early. But in a world where the technology frontier is stagnant, these gains should become more important, because they would not be attainable just by waiting a years.

So why isn't it the case that the pessimists are the ones working hardest for free trade?

Posted by: Daniel Lam on March 12, 2004 09:59 AM

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I was under the impression that the average American wage had barely grown over this period of increasing imports, so I'm not sure what empirical and historical evidence you speak of concerning the benefits to increased imports. However, your pessimist argument starts from the assumption that increased imports are always a good thing, which is where you lose me.

Posted by: Tim H. on March 12, 2004 10:24 AM

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Stirling Newberry:

I think I caught the drift of your comment about the Articles of Confederation being replaced By the U.S. Constitution. IIRC, the need to create a stabilized currency and secure source of revenues to address debt from the Revolutionary War was a big factor. But that was a long time ago and a different world. Would you care to elaborate any, since it is a large and complex issue in today's world. In particular, how and "who" would cede such authority and how would such authority, once constituted, be enforced? It would seem to require a framework of coordination between sovereign nation-states, but such arrangements seem always to yield contradictory imperatives. Just look at the perpetual wranglings of the EU.

Posted by: john c. halasz on March 12, 2004 11:01 AM

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As long as Brad is teaching history instead of economics, let's expound a little on the Triangle Trade practices of the 18th and 19th Century English bankers and shipping magnates, at the blossoming of the Grand Industrial Revolution.

And what a great thing it was for global trade! Bartering all those goods and sheckels to Arab slave traders in Africa, bartering African slaves and English manufactured goods to the Southern plantations, and bartering American sugar and tobacco to the common English citizenry.

What a great day in the sun! Triangular Trade!! Everybody making money, English bankers, Arab slave traders and Southern plantation owners!!

Sadly, the Industrial Revolution wasn't kind to the common folk, many of whom ended up in Australia as felons, a practice emulated by American robber barons and monopolists in their own right before the advent of unionism.

Never mind that here today, America is being WalMartized into a 2nd class nation of minimum- wage indentured servitude, or that India and China are being rurally depopulated and also WalMartized in their own way, into a 4th class nation of subsistence wage indentured slaves.

That doesn't matter in neoliberal economic trade theory. No, the English Triangular Trade model is golden. Nothing else matters, not the truth, not the economic blowback of brownfielding entire peoples, not the huge and growing devastation of the earth's eco-system. Just hold on the Milken Model of Junk Trade Theory. Make Say's Law right, even if you have to prop up it's corpse on a board and flop it's arms in a marionette dance.

2,000,000 Americans are in jails and prisons today. 100,000,000 Chinese are in prison camps.
49% of Americans today are in perpetual debt, unable to pay down their creditors. Those folks have not seen growth in real wages for *twenty-five years*! They missed out on the '90's boom, in fact, many lost their entire life savings. And now any work benefits they might have are being outsourced and outmanufactured away.

"You don't like your wages? We can find ten waiting to take your job, a hundred overseas."

The IT equivalent of a $80,000 a year American programmer is a $8,000 a year Indian programmer.
The equivalent of a $7.70 an hour US factory worker is a $770 A YEAR Chinese factory worker.

For 100,000,000 Chinese factory workers who walked in from the villages hoping to earn a living, they are trapped for the rest of their lives in locked dormitories, paid a slave wage barely enough to feed and cloth themselves. The modern day version of the African slaves.

And the Chinese politico-financial elites?

They've mastered the English Triangular Trade system (ironic, if you study the Opium Wars). Exactly like the old Slave Days, selling cheap slave-made baubles to the WalMart traitors, sending our American slave dollars, and that's what our outflow of trade is, forced devalution of our equity ownership in America, to Australia, then bringing AU raw materials and buying up AU real estate for development to complete the loop.

Like Kreb's Cycle, a perfect marathon of global trade until we're all running-in-place skeletons.
Is this good? Oh, it's *great* if you're a banker or shipping magnate or import/export middleman! Triangular Trade is the Gulf Stream of economics. Invincible, relentless, colossal beyond words, a MLM order-of-magnitude increase in profitability. There is more goods, services and money in play today than at any time in world history.

It just hasn't trickled down to you and me yet.

Then what killed off English Triangular Trade?
The American Revolution, the American Civil War and Gandhi's Salt Wars in India. Everyone had had enough of the Queens and their Lords and Sheriffs, their brutal taxes and theft of land ownership, the brutal indentured servitude for a thatch shack and a bushel basket full of turnips.

That time will come again, sooner than we would admit. We can only hope Brad was being sardonic.

Posted by: Ifthen Else on March 12, 2004 12:00 PM

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I agree with Luke Lea.

Economists avoid stating (at least in in public) the probable conclusion that the median income in the US will stagnate or decline in real dollars over the next few generations (my prediction - hold me to it).

Instead they try to paint a rosy picture of how everyone will retrain themselves in some wonderful new profession in which Americans have a "competitive advantage". When one asks what these wonderful new professions will be, or what our "competitive advantages" are, the answers become vague and mystical. Something we know not what.

I suspect that they don't want to acknowledge the probable decline because they fear that if they did, the public would panic and create barriers to trade which economists (rightly or wrongly) fear would make matters even worse.

But I can't believe that misleading the public, rather than leveling with them, is a good long term policy.

Posted by: Jeffrey Miller on March 12, 2004 12:59 PM

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Have you noticed how Brad keeps posting some pro-ousourcing articles every few days but never partricipates in the discussion? No good arguments, I suppose.

Posted by: beanbaby on March 12, 2004 02:08 PM

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Luka and Jeff both raise potentially valid points about the distributional effects that trade can have on wages and inequality. At the same time they imply that economists are less then forthcoming about the potential size of these redistributions. This is not true however, on
both accounts. The redistributive effects are most likely fairly small, compared for example to the redistributive effects of technological change (does this also imply that potential gains from trade are also small? Probably) and there is a large discussion among economists about the exact size of this redistriburtion.

It's been awhile since I've looked at it but there's a large literature which tries to ascertain what portion of the observed increase in wage inequality between skilled and unskilled workers since roughly the early 70's can be attributed to trade, as opposed to other factors.

I remember the highest estimate was from Adrian Wood who put the upper bound on 20%. That is, of all the increase in inequality since 70's at most 20% could be attributed to trade. However, even he didn't buy this number - based on implausible assumptions about paremeter values and thought the actual percentage to be in the lower to mid teens. This study however was an outlier. Most other studies found numbers between 3 and 10 percent. Again, this does not mean that trade has caused the wage inequality to increase by 3 to 10%, rather, that of the observed inequality trade can explain only 3 to 10%. Bhagwati if I recall correctly even had a paper where he found that trade alleviated inequality (wage inequality would have increased even more in the absence of trade) using a different model (not factor endowments/HO model).

So while it is a legitimate concern, there's very little empirical evidence to support the view that trade leads (would lead) to drastic redistributions of income. The reason is quite simple. The US economy is very diversified and the domestic market is huge. As such, in the overall picture trade does not really play such a big role. Technological change, tax policy and other factors determine the degree of inequality to a far greater extent then trade does.

And as both Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong have pointed out before, this does seem to imply that gains from trade are not that big, relative to the size of the US economy as a whole. You can actually have little effect on inequality and large gains from trade if you consider a trade model where trade is driven by economies of scale or something along this lines (this is what Bhagwati does) but these models tend to be much more specialized and stylized which means in some sense they are not as "robust".

What this also means is that if trade really had the drastic distributional consequences that Luka implies (ruining 80%+ of the work force!)the gains from trade would also have to be huge. Which means a lot more potential and support for compensation.

Finally the fact that there is that there is not that much trade-related compensation going on (though NAFTA has some) shouldn't be blamed on economists, who do stress the distributional issues, but rather on politicians on both sides who would rather pander to cheap knee jerk ideology (populism on the left, ubriddled laissez faire on the right) then make concrete honest proposals for both free trade and compensation.

Posted by: radek on March 12, 2004 03:15 PM

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As further evidence of the immiseration of labor caused by trade, look at how compensation of employees as a share of national income has plunged since the golden age of 50 years ago:

1950 59%
1955 61%
1960 62%
1965 61%
1970 66%
1975 66%
1980 68%
1985 65%
1990 66%
1995 65%
2000 66%
2003 64% (first 3 quarters)

Oh wait, it hasn't. But that's no reason to be complacent - this time it's different! Capitalists these days are more evil than they used to be, and Chinese and Indians are so much more dangerous than the Japanese.

Krugman explains in this old goodie:

http://www.pkarchive.org/trade/ricardo.html

In particular, with regard to the fall in real wages between 1977 and 1992: "The 13 percent decline in real wages was true only for production workers, and ignores the increase in their benefits: total compensation of the average worker actually rose 2 percent. And even that remaining gap turns out to be a statistical quirk: it is entirely due to a difference in the price indexes used to deflate business output and consumption (probably reflecting overstatement of both productivity growth and consumer price inflation). When the same price index is used, the increases in productivity and compensation have been almost exactly equal."

Posted by: Daniel Lam on March 12, 2004 04:27 PM

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Daniel: yeah, and Kenneth Lay and his dog-robber together made some impressive gains. How about going one step beyond Marx and understanding that the divide today is not between a poor employee CEO that makes $10 million a year and an evil owner - janitor that has 10 shares in his retirement account?

Posted by: a on March 12, 2004 05:11 PM

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Daniel,

Great reference to Krugman: "It does not occur to them that the wages earned in one industry are largely determined by the wages similar workers are earning in other industries."

Lets see. A wage earned by a computer programmer is largerly determined by the wages earned by... who? A nurse? Cab driver? Starbucks barrista?

Ricardo assumed that there is no extra costs in re-profiling workers. I wonder if you would like your heart surgeon to be a computer engineer with 2 weeks on the job training.

Posted by: beanbaby on March 12, 2004 05:30 PM

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Radek: I agree with your point that in the past
trade was not as important, and that even now technological change and tax policy play a huge role in determining income distribution.

I do think however (and I hope to be proven wrong) that now really is different when it comes to trade, and so studies past on past decades are not applicable. With the internet, communication is now essentially free and instantaneous. This means huge classes of jobs can be efficiently sent to where ever labor is cheapest. This wasn't true even ten years ago. The movement of goods is also ever more efficient. Finally, we have never before coupled our economy so suddenly to what is - for all practical purposes - an infinite source of cheap labor - both manual labor and highly trained and educated labor.

Daniel: Do your figures include CEO compensation?
I think it would be interesting to see your numbers not in aggregate, but say broken down by deciles. Say you rank all incomes each year. What is the % of the total national income from 1950 till now of those incomes in the 30th through 70th decile (the middle class)?

But my basic point is the same: I don't think the past is always a reliable guide. You might think, based on the past 100 years averages that if you invest some money in the stock market right now, you're going to make 10% returns over the next thirty years. But, with due deference to history, I think you'd be wrong.

Posted by: Jeffrey Miller on March 12, 2004 05:31 PM

____


OK. Median income of people aged 15 and over (14 and over before 1980) in 2001 CPI-U-RS adjusted dollars, from the Census Bureau (you can be sure that the median person is not Ken Lay):

1950 12,274
1955 12,996
1960 13,366
1965 15,187
1970 16,494
1975 16,425
1980 16,164
1985 17,272
1990 18,889
1995 19,349
2000 22,140
2001 21,934

Ironically, the only sustained decline is seen during the 1970s, a period for which some commentators here have expressed fond nostalgia.

These numbers are easy to look up. Look, I don't dispute that inequality has worsened, or that there can legitimate disagreements on economic reality and policy. But time and again I hear people expressing beliefs that are contradicted by the grossest features of the data, or that reflect simple conceptual errors, like confusing comparative advantage with absolute or 'competitive' advantage. Rational discussion is not possible if we fail to agree on even the barest facts and definitions of concepts.

Posted by: Daniel Lam on March 12, 2004 06:55 PM

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Lam: Do what Miller suggests. Do the deciles! First take away the top 5% who make the lion's share of the national income, and see where that leaves you. Then walk through any great city downtown after the shutters close, and tell the homeless creeping out of the shadows that a great new day must surely be coming, by-'n-by.

Then do the numbers again, $21,000 a year, at the average home mortgage, groceries and gas. Invest the remainder for 20 years. Deduct 2.2 college educations. Invest the remainder, well, there isn't a remainder, because now there's a second mortgage. Run the numbers out the final 20 years, see what you get. Now eliminate Social Security. Need visuals? Bratislava, on steroids. Hey, there'll be a booming futures market in cardboard crates and hand-me-down knit caps!

Posted by: Ifthen Else on March 12, 2004 08:07 PM

____

Larry wrote:

"Even the theorical basis for free trade does not necessarily apply today. Ricardo specificially stated that the benefits become problematic when the key factors of production are mobile. Like today."

You know, I used to take that position. But then I realized (as many before me) that even with mobility of capital, both countries gain under free trade -- gain being understood to mean that their total output increases (ie. the size of the economic pie gets bigger).

What Ricardo did not consider, and neither have most trade theorists subsequently, is what happens when a relatively small country with a high capital-population ratio (ie, a rich country with high wages) opens its borders to trade with a much bigger country (in terms of population) but extremely low wages. This is basically the situation that exists between the West and the Rest today.

The theory's three main qualitative predictions (I'm talking neoclassical trade theory now, not Ricardo) are these:

1. Both countries (or groups of countries) will be made better off, at least potentially, because their GNP's will be bigger than they would have been.

2. The low wage workers in the poor countries will definitely be made better off, because their wages will rise faster than they would have, perhaps much faster.

3. The high wage workers in the rich countries will certainly be made worse off because their wages will fall in response to low-wage imports and capital flight.

The obvious question is how do you square proposition 1 with proposition 3. The answer is by redistribution of income from capital to labor: the economic pie is bigger, but labor's share is smaller, both relatively and absolutely. Therefore capital must share its much bigger piece of the pie with labor.

These are the main qualitative predictions. As for magnitudes and timing, there is little theory can predict with any certainty, because it is a situation no country or set of countries has ever faced before. But commonsense says the size of these effects will be a product of the relative sizes of the two populations, and the relative differences in their wage levels.

From this we can conclude that the effect will certainly be bigger than anything we have ever experienced before, and that past experience (such as what happened in the 1970's and 80's, or even the 90's) cannot be our guide.

BTW, I am in favor of free trade: I just want the redistribution part to be made actual, instead of remaining a theoretical but unrealized potential -- which most economists seem to think is enough.

Why they think that wasy is probably because they are not sure how to do the redistribution -- both politically, and practically -- and so find it more convenient to stick their heads in the sand.

Plus, never forget, free trade is a quasi-religious dogma with economists, who are a fairly nerdy and intellectually insecure group by and large; many are literally afraid to speak out.

I hope Brad will let this post stand.

Posted by: Luke Lea on March 12, 2004 08:24 PM

____

LUUUUUKE, LUUUUUKE,

Luke understands the Force, while Brad explains what the theory of the Force is suppose to be.

Frederick List not Adam Smith.

Posted by: Greg Hunter on March 13, 2004 06:12 AM

____

Daniel: I agree that we need to respect the facts and use language precisely. I wrote my first comment in haste and used the word "competitive" when I should have use "comparative". I have read Ricardo closely and understand the difference. I realized my error as soon as I posted the note and probably should have corrected it. Thank you for pointing it out however.

Your first set of figures showed the % of national income going to labor. As IfthenElse points out, I then asked to see the % of national income going to those between the 3rd and 7th deciles - the middle class. Instead you show us the median income through time. As you surely know, the changes in the median income through time and changes in % of national income going to the middle class are not in any way related. One shows changes in distribution, independently of overall level, the other shows changes in overall income. So I ask you again to follow your advise on conceptual clarity, and give us the data relevant to your first post - % of income going to the middle class through time.

On the topic of "comparative" advantages, as Luke Lea mentions, Ricardo's main assumption - the immobility of capital - is grossly violated today. Yet the immobility of capital is the peg on which the whole edifice hangs - if you take that away there is nothing in Ricardo or, to my knowledge, any other economic theory which shows that, under the current circumstances, the US, in aggregate, must, necessarily be enriched by trade. Indeed, the facts suggest otherwise. We import enormous amounts of ephemeral goods and pay for them with interest bearing debt to foreigners. This is, for better or worse, a transfer of wealth.

Again on the topic of comparative advantages - what do you think ours are? I'm very much like to know but have yet to hear a compelling analysis, outside of things like bananas and wheat.

Posted by: Jeffrey Miller on March 13, 2004 06:52 AM

____

OK, share of aggregate income going to the middle fifth of households, from the very same Census Bureau:

1970 17.4
1975 17.1
1980 16.9
1985 16.3
1990 15.9
1995 15.2
2000 14.8
2002 14.8

As I said, inequality has worsened, but hardly disappearance of the middle class.

Ricardo's model example has no capital at all, only labor. If this factor is perfectly mobile, free trade would not be harmful, merely pointless, as the entire population of England removes itself en masse to Portugal. With any barriers to labor mobility at all (immigration restrictions, transportation costs, language difficulties, patriotic attachment to the sceptred isle, whatever) causing even one Englishman to remain, free trade yields a gain.

I find it puzzling that capital mobility has been put forward as a devastating blow against free trade without any further explanation of how. So, how, exactly, is it 'the peg on which the whole edifice hangs'? I have seen plausible arguments for why sometimes you might want to have free trade with restrictions on capital flows, but none for why you might want to have capital mobility with restrictions on trade. By the way, Mr Luke Lea, to his credit, did not express this canard, and has in fact disowned it.

"We import enormous amounts of ephemeral goods and pay for them with interest bearing debt to foreigners. This is, for better or worse, a transfer of wealth."

If it's a transfer of wealth, it's from them to us. Those ephemeral goods are stuff that we consume and enjoy, and all we have to do to get them is give them pieces of paper. They're lending us their savings to finance our investments.

"Again on the topic of comparative advantages - what do you think ours are?"

If you have to ask what our comparative advantages are before you would believe that they exist, then you don't understand the concept. The whole point of comparative advantage is that it is something that a country has even if it is inhabited entirely by spoiled lazy slobs with primitive technology who are not very good at producing anything whatsoever. This overview gives a good introduction:

http://internationalecon.com/v1.0/ch40/40c000.html

Posted by: Daniel Lam on March 13, 2004 10:29 AM

____

"The whole point of comparative advantage is that it is something that a country has even if it is inhabited entirely by spoiled lazy slobs with primitive technology who are not very good at producing anything whatsoever." I would think that it would then be fairly easy to tell us non-economists what the US's are.

Posted by: Tim H. on March 13, 2004 12:21 PM

____

The list of assumptions make for a pretty freaking tall order:

"Goods are assumed homogeneous (identical) across firms and countries. Labor is homogeneous within a country but heterogeneous (non-identical) across countries. Goods can be transported costlessly between countries. Labor can be reallocated costlessly between industries within a country but cannot move between countries. Labor is always fully employed. Production technology differences across industries and across countries and are reflected in labor productivity parameters. The labor and goods markets are assumed to be perfectly competitive in both countries. Firms are assumed to maximize profit while consumers (workers) are assumed to maximize utility. ... wages are based on productivity ... assume that trade between countries is suddenly liberalized and made free"

No full employment, radically hetergeneous domestic labor market, empiracle evidence delinking productivity to wages, dynamic rather than static change, increasing costs to shift labor between industries with increasing dynamism, etc.

"[blah blah blah], to dismiss the results of economic analysis on the basis of unrealistic assumptions means that one must dismiss all insights contained within the entire economics discipline. Surely, this is not practical or realistic."

This isn't so much a defense of the assumptions as it is handwaving sophistry. If we're talking about a science then reality matters, the prediction is that the there is greater output that increases the general welfare, the empiracle evidence is that there is greater output that accrues to increasingly narrow stratas of the general population, and with increasing inequality the basic assumptions of the original models become ever more out of whack with reality.

If we were to make a similarly implausible assumption and assume that this divorce with reality wasn't because those implementing the policies weren't enormously corrupt then it would be niether practical nor realistic to continue pushing the same theory. A scientist would go back to the drawing board, a brainwashed ideologue would keep pushing the same corrupt agenda.

But the policy makers are extremely corrupt, and so we have massive Western ag subsidies while the IMF wing of the Treasury Department twists weaker countries to lift their ag protecitons, or China performing massive labor market interventions on behalf of the international corporate class, slaughtering and enslaving those who stand in the path of its industrialization program. Again reality is divorced from the theory, and any sane person would object to the agenda rather than painting pretty pictures of primroses and pussycats.

Posted by: buermann on March 13, 2004 12:47 PM

____

Thanks for the income distribution stats.

"Ricardo's model example has no capital at all, only labor." -Daniel Lam

"Experience, however, shows that the fancied or real insecurity of CAPITAL, when not under the immediate control of its owner, together with the natural disinclination which every man has to quit the country of his birth and connections, and intrust himself, with all his habits fixed, to a strange government and new laws, check the emigration of CAPITAL. These feelings, which I should sorry to see weakened, induce most men of property to be satisfied with a low rate of profits in their own country, rather than seek a more advantageous employment of their WEALTH in foreign nations."
-David Ricardo, 1817, on why capital doesn't flow
between countries in his chapter
"On Foreign Trade", in "The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation" in which he lays forth his theory of comparative advantage and why trade benefits both parties.

The whole point of Ricardo's argument is that free trade will causes the capital and labor of each country to be used as efficiently as possible within a country. If, however, capital can flow between countries, there is no point whatsoever for introducing the idea of comparative advantage. If capital is mobile, all that matters is absolute advantage. If Portugal produces wine and wool more cheaply than Britain, then, whatever the comparative advantages might be, if capital is free to flow it will flow to Portugal where it can be best employed in an absolute and not relative sense: British companies will set up wine and wool businesses in Portugal. It is then no longer clear that Britain, on the whole, benefits from this.

"Those ephemeral goods are stuff that we consume and enjoy, and all we have to do to get them is give them pieces of paper."

It's so easy. Just give them pieces of paper and they send us cars and couches. Why didn't we think of that earlier?

"They're lending us their savings to finance our investments."

No. They're lending us they're savings to finance our consumption. We're not investing, we're consuming. Going into debt to consume is not, to my knowledge, the standard road to wealth. If we we're investing the money they lent us in such a way that our expected return was greater than the cost of borrowing, I wouldn't be worried. But that's not what's happening.

"If you have to ask what our comparative advantages are before you would believe that they exist, then you don't understand the concept."

I do understand the concept, and because I do understand the concept, I also see that the concept is not relevant in a world where the factors of production can move freely between countries. If you don't understand that, you don't understand Ricardo's argument.

"The whole point of comparative advantage is that it is something that a country has even if it is inhabited entirely by spoiled lazy slobs with primitive technology who are not very good at producing anything whatsoever."

It's telling that I can never get a straight answer to this question. What are the comparative advantages of the country that you live in? Give me a list. And tell me with respect to which countries our comparative advantages are comparative advantages.

And then when you've done that (which I doubt you can) tell me why it matters, since I'm free to take my capital to whichever country has the greatest absolute advantage and set up production there.

Posted by: Jeffrey Miller on March 13, 2004 01:33 PM

____

"If Portugal produces wine and wool more cheaply than Britain, then, whatever the comparative advantages might be, if capital is free to flow it will flow to Portugal where it can be best employed in an absolute and not relative sense: British companies will set up wine and wool businesses in Portugal."

Standard retort to this is a recourse to HO theory (ie: http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/001002.html ), what goes unnoted is that HO theory predicts the problem we're facing. How you deal with it is what the argument is about, and BD thinks that domestic policies that are politically nigh-impossible to implement here are the sole solution to what he also thinks, for fuzzier reasons (the largely unanswered "where is our future comparative advantage that will preserve our standard of living" line of questioning), is a temporary problem.

Posted by: buermann on March 13, 2004 02:23 PM

____

"I would think that it would then be fairly easy to tell us non-economists what the US's are."

Yeah, it's pretty easy even for us non-economists. Balassa came up with an index of revealed comparative advantage. According to this formula as applied by the International Trade Centre, the United States has the most comparative advantage in non-electronic machinery and miscellaneous manufacturing and the least in minerals and fresh food. This index is based on the share of a sector in a country's exports compared with the share of the same sector in world exports. You can look it up yourself for all countries at www.intracen.org. One important limitation is that it counts only trade in goods, not services. The U.S. runs a large surplus in services trade and has a lot of comparative advantage there.

I repeat my question: what exactly is the problem with capital mobility? One minute the monster is capital inflows ("we're going into debt to all those foreigners!"). The next minute it's capital outflows ("all the capital is flowing to India and China and there'll be none left here!"). Both things can't happen at the same time. Even if you can't be bothered looking up data, at least you can try not to contradict yourself.

As for the cost of the capital that foreigners are providing to the U.S., in 2002 the U.S. had a net international investment position at market value of minus 2.6 trillion dollars. That's a lot of liabilities: it must be costing a fortune, right? Actually, income receipts on U.S.-owned assets abroad ($252.379 billion) were actually a little higher than payments to foreigners on their assets in the U.S. ($251.108 billion). Net, the U.S. pays foreigners nothing for the use of their savings.

Finally, on the Ricardian model, the modern presentation is to assume only one factor of production, labor. This is because Ricardo defined the production functions in their entirety by saying:

"England may be so circumstanced, that to produce the cloth may require the labour of 100 men for one year; and if she attempted to make the wine, it might require the labour of 120 men for the same time ... To produce the wine in Portugal, might require only the labour of 80 men for one year, and to produce the cloth in the same country, might require the labour of 90 men for the same time."

with no mention of capital, or land for that matter. This amounts to an assumption that, if capital exists, it enters into the production functions of wine and corn with the same intensity, so that the shifting of capital between the two industries does not affect labor productivity. Then capital is always combined with labor in fixed proportions and you're back to just one factor of production, effectively.

Posted by: Daniel Lam on March 13, 2004 03:21 PM

____

Tim H., compains that "it [sh}ould then be fairly easy to tell us non-economists what the US's [comparative advantages]are."

A fair question. The answer (according to theory)is those industries that are relatively capital intensive, like automobile production, for example.

But before they can become competitive, we will be forced to get everybody's wages down and redesign the production process: get rid of all those robots that paint and weld, and go back to way we used to do it, with a worker with a paint-sprayer in his hand.

Whether this is progress is another question -- though it might be, if those wages were subsidized with a national healthcare plan, for example, plus an extension of the earned income tax credit, and maybe some other measures to help ordinary wage and salary workers.

This is what the trade debate comes down to in the end: the losers when we trade with the China's of this world are not "individuals" in certain industries or sectors of the economy. They are entire social classes -- which is where the conventional wisdom of economists on trade theory goes off the tracks.

An excellent example of this error is to be seen in the on-line text referenced by Daniel Lam above (http://internationalecon.com/v1.0/ch40/40c000.html) especially the sections dealing with winners and losers and the principle of compensation.

Posted by: Luke Lea on March 13, 2004 03:28 PM

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Daniel Lam:

Your retrieval of the latest figures on net capital flows and the returns acruing to them was quite interesting. Leaving aside, that that -$2.6 trillion has since augmented and will continue to augment under the current federal budgetary policy and what portends in that case, the figures imply that U.S. investors receive much higher returns from abroad than foreign investors receive from U.S. investments. But it is questionable to say the "we" pay nothing for foreign savings. Foreign investment in U.S. treasuries, mostly by foreign central banks to control their own currency values, frees up domestic capital for investment abroad and this investment, say, e.g., FDI in factories in China, is highly lucretive. So the policies currently in place in the U.S.A., sharp tax cuts for the wealthy and the ownership of capital combined with "free trade", are highly beneficial to the well-to-do, increasing their returns even as the public gets saddled with increasing amounts of debt. So it is rather bootless to say that "we" get the benefit of foreigner's savings for "free". That is not a homogeneous "we". This is not to deny that "free trade" has some beneficial effects, as economists argue. But it is to question whether the issue can be reasonably discussed in abstraction from the overall policy mix- and the question of just what "free trade" policies are really about free trade- and whether the down-side effects on, e.g., the increasingly unequal distribution of income, the costs of intersectoral structural re-adjustment, the loss of efficacy in domestic economic policy and policy levers, (as with e.g. the dilution of the multiplier effect), and the squeeze on public revenues due to the strategic options afforded to big business, do not militate against the aggregate gains. Also, I think it bootless to present the issue solely in terms of a value-neutral formal model in purely functional terms and concerned only with aggregate quantities, effectively denying the extractive nature of these processes in the real world. In the real world, it is not possible to completely separate out the economic system from the political and ignore the ways in which these two tend to colonize each other. And the issue of the distribution of aggregate income between labor and capital on the nature of the economy, its measurement and the course of its development has large effects, on classically Ricardan grounds, isn't that right?

Posted by: john c. halasz on March 13, 2004 04:41 PM

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I think I'm starting to see what has Luka so scared: the Factor Price Equalization theorem.

Well, for one thing, unlike the related Stolper
Samuelson theorem, a crucial assumption of the FPE theorem is that the technology/productivity is the same between countries. Since in the HO model trade is driven by differences in factor endowments this is fine as a theoretical assumption - you don't want to have too many things going on at once (for the same reason the assumptions that preferences are homogenous and identical, labor is mobile between sectors etc. are made - they can be relaxed and trade is still good in the aggregate). However if there are productivity differences between say India and US or China and US then there's no reason to expect FPE to hold.

Of course in reality the productivity differences between US and China and/or India are huge! (Part of the reason why most US investment goes in fact to Europe/Japan NOT India/China). Which means that the effects on US wages from trade is much much smaller. Now, suppose that productivity in China/India increases, as a result of technology transfer or domestic innovation. Then maybe FPE will become plausible. But at the same time the increases in productivity will increase Indian/Chinese wages closer to US levels and again, the effect on US wages is much less.

This is explained in section 7.2 of Caves, Frankel and Jones (6th edition) in the chapter on the HO model.

There are also numerous other reasons why FPE might fail in practice. For example if there are more than two factors of production. This would be the case in the Specific Factors model which I mentioned earlier and which this book devotes a lot of attention to (chapter 8 in 6th edition).

Posted by: radek on March 13, 2004 07:00 PM

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I agree with many of John Halasz's points.

"According to this formula as applied by the International Trade Centre, the United States has the most comparative advantage in non-electronic machinery and miscellaneous manufacturing"

So pumps, turbines, refrigeration equipment - that kind of thing - is our strong suit in world trade. I'm comforted to know that. I can't imagine the Chinese setting up a factory to make water pumps with labor costs 1/10th what they are in Ohio.

"I repeat my question: what exactly is the problem with capital mobility?"

I never said there was a "problem with capital mobility". I said that Ricardo's proof that free trade necessarily benefits both countries is only valid, and indeed his whole discussion of comparative rather than absolute advantage only makes sense if you assume capital immobility. If capital were mobile, "It would undoubtedly be advantageous to the capitalists of England, and the consumers in both countries, that under such circumstances the wine and cloth should both be made in Portugal, and therefore that the capital and labor of England employed in making cloth should be removed to Portugal for that purpose".
That is to say, when capital is mobile stop thinking about comparative advantage, it's not important or meaningful, just consider absolute advantage, and set up shop wherever this absolute advantage is.

"One minute the monster is capital inflows ("we're going into debt to all those foreigners!").The next minute it's capital outflows ("all the capital is flowing to India and China and there'll be none left here!"). Both things can't happen at the same time."

(Who said "there'll be none left here!"?)
You don't think that the Treasury could be borrowing ~5% of GDP per year from foreign central banks, and at the very same time IBM and EDS could be laying off programmers in New Jersey and setting up shop in Bombay? Foreign central banks have bought and are continuing to buy huge amounts of US debt. That's a reality that, unfortunately, our children will be left to deal with. And it's also a reality that, since all that matters is absolute advantage and absolute advantage means lowest cost and lowest cost means lowest labor cost (labor is by far the largest cost for most companies), US companies are scrambling to replace as many expensive US workers with cheaper and often equally well qualified foreign workers. You can't blame them either. They must do so in order to stay competitive. Right now the effect is small. Over time, it will be very large and will have a strong adverse impact on US workers' incomes (except pump makers of course).

"Even if you can't be bothered looking up data, at least you can try not to contradict yourself."

Never having met you, I'm not entirely sure how you can know whether I can be bothered to look up data or not.

"As for the cost of the capital that foreigners are providing to the U.S., in 2002 the U.S. had a net international investment position at market value of minus 2.6 trillion dollars. That's a lot of liabilities: it must be costing a fortune, right? Actually, income receipts on U.S.-owned assets abroad ($252.379 billion) were actually a little higher than payments to foreigners on their assets in the U.S. ($251.108 billion). Net, the U.S. pays foreigners nothing for the use of their savings."

I met an heir the other day. He told me his daddy left him a foreign mine that pays large dividends each year. He told me he had had to borrow from a foreign bank against the mine and then some to finance his fancy lifestyle. But he said he wasn't too worried about the debt because the dividends from the mine covered the interest on the debt. The way he looked at it, it was as if the lenders we're lending him the money for free.

Posted by: Jeffrey Miller on March 13, 2004 10:02 PM

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