Sunday, July 31, 2016

Greg Mankiw Explains Why Voters Oppose Free Trade And Globaiization

Greg Mankiw has published one of the most popular economics text books and he teaches students at Harvard the virtues of free market economics.  The New York Times provides him with many opportunities to sell his version of political economy to its readers.  According to Mankiw we live in the best of all possible worlds as we move closer to an idealized free market economy.  Not surprisingly, Mankiw is distressed by polls which show that the majority of Americans do not share his views about free trade and globalization, which he conflates with free trade.  In this article Mankiw explains why voters do not share the beliefs about free trade and globalization that are held by most economists.

Mankiw's explanation for voter apathy about free trade and globalization is, like  his treatment of economic ideas in his textbooks, short and sweet.  He cites a study which shows that opinions about free trade are colored by cultural factors which bias their views on free trade. Three cultural factors influence their opinions.  They are isolationists, nationalists and tribal in their thinking.  Consequently, they fail to appreciate the rationale used by many economists to justify free trade and globalization.  Mankiw also argues that they are less well educated than voters who support free trade and globalization.  His solution to voter apathy about free trade and globalization is to provide more of them with a better education.  Voters who read his textbooks will be stronger supporters of free trade and globalization.

The comments that follow his article come primarily from highly educated readers of the New York Times.  One may not agree with all of Mankiw's critics, but its clear that concerns about free trade and globalization are not exclusively held by the poorly educated.  There are lots of problems with free trade and globalization (which is not the same as free trade) that go well beyond the treatment of these issues in economic textbooks.  Things don't always turn out the way it is imagined by economists like Mankiw who greatly simplify reality in introductory textbooks.

A large number of voters are less sophisticated about trade and globalization than economists like Mankiw, but many who do not share his assumptions, and that includes many top economists, who have good reasons to be concerned about free trade. Moreover, globalization  has grown faster than the ability of nation states to deal with its consequences. 

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