Thursday, April 24, 2014
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Les œillères du libre-échange

CAMBRIDGE - J'ai été récemment invité par deux collègues de Harvard à faire une intervention dans leur cours sur la globalisation. «amp#160;Je dois vous dire, m'a averti à l'avance l'un d'entre eux, que c'est une foule plutôt favorable à la globalisation.amp#160;» Lors de la toute première réunion, il a demandé aux étudiants combien d'entre eux préféraient le libre-échange aux restrictions sur les importations ; la réponse était de plus de 90%. Et c'était avant que les étudiants n'aient été instruits des merveilles de l'avantage comparé !

Nous savons que quand la même question est posée dans de vrais sondages à des échantillons représentatifs - pas simplement à des étudiants de Harvard - les résultats sont tout à fait différents. Aux États-Unis, les personnes interrogées préfèrent les restrictions du commerce à deux contre un. Mais la réponse des étudiants de Harvard n'était pas entièrement surprenante. Les personnes interrogées hautement qualifiées et plus instruites ont tendance à être considérablement plus favorables au libre-échange que les cols bleus. Peut-être que les étudiants de Harvard votaient tout simplement en pensant à leurs propres portefeuilles (futurs).

Ou peut-être n'avaient-ils pas compris comment fonctionne vraiment le commerce. Après tout, quand je les ai rencontrés, j'ai posé la même question sous une autre forme, en soulignant les probables effets distributionnels du commerce. Cette fois, le consensus sur le libre-échange s'est évaporé - encore plus rapidement que je ne l'avais prévu.

J'ai commencé le cours en demandant aux étudiants s'ils seraient d’accord pour que je réalise une expérience de magie particulière. J'ai sélectionné deux volontaires, Nicholas et John, et je leur ai dit que je pouvais faire disparaitre 200 dollars du compte bancaire de Nicholas - pouf ! - tout en ajoutant 300 dollars à celui de John. Cet exploit de technologie sociale enrichirait l'ensemble de la classe de 100 dollars. Me permettraient-ils d'effectuer ce tour de magie ?

Ceux qui ont voté «amp#160;ouiamp#160;» représentaient seulement une minuscule minorité. Beaucoup étaient incertains. Un nombre encore plus important s’est opposé au changement.

Les étudiants étaient clairement gênés d’excuser une redistribution significative du revenu, même si le potentiel économique se développait en conséquence. Comment est-il possible, ai-je demandé, que presque tous aient instinctivement favorisé le libre-échange, qui nécessite une redistribution semblable - en fait, probablement bien plus grande - des perdants aux gagnants ? Ils ont eu l'air déconcertés.

Supposons, ai-je continué, que Nicholas et John possèdent deux petites sociétés en concurrence mutuelle. Supposez que John se soit enrichi de 300 dollars parce qu'il a travaillé plus dur, a économisé et a investi davantage et a créé de meilleurs produits, en forçant Nicholas à se retirer des affaires et en lui causant une perte de 200 dollars. Combien parmi ces étudiants approuvaient maintenant le changement ? Cette fois une grande majorité l'ont approuvé – en fait, tous sauf Nicholas !

J'ai posé d'autres hypothèses, directement liées au contexte du commerce international. Supposez que John ait causé le retrait des affaires de Nicholas en important des apports plus de haute qualité en provenance d'Allemagne ? En externalisant en Chine, où le droit du travail n’est pas bien défendu ? En embauchant des enfants ouvriers en Indonésie ? Le soutien au changement proposé a chuté à chacune de ces solutions de rechange.

Mais que diriez-vous de l'innovation technologique, qui comme le commerce, laisse souvent quelques personnes dans une pire situationamp#160;? Ici, peu d'étudiants excuseraient de bloquer le progrès technologique. L’idée d’interdire l'ampoule électrique parce qu'elle fera perdre les emplois des fabricants de bougies frappe presque tout le monde par son idiotie.

Ainsi les étudiants n'étaient pas nécessairement contre la redistribution. Ils étaient contre certains genres de redistribution. Comme la plupart d'entre nous, ils se soucient de l'équité procédurale.

Pour émettre un jugement sur des résultats de redistribution, nous devons connaître les circonstances qui les causent. Nous n'en voulons pas à Bill Gates ni à Warren Buffett d'être milliardaires, même si certains de leurs rivaux ont souffert en cours de route, vraisemblablement parce qu'eux et leurs concurrents opèrent selon les mêmes règles de base et rencontrent plus ou moins les mêmes occasions et les mêmes obstacles.

Nous penserions différemment si les Gates et Buffett s'étaient enrichis non pas par la transpiration et l'inspiration, mais en trichant, en enfreignant le droit du travail, en ravageant l'environnement, ou en tirant profit des subventions de gouvernements étrangers. Si nous ne pardonnons pas la redistribution qui viole des codes moraux largement partagés chez nous, pourquoi devrions-nous l'accepter juste parce qu'elle comporte des transactions au-delà des frontières politiques ?

De même, quand nous nous attendons à ce que les effets de redistribution s'équilibrent à long terme, de sorte que chacun en sorte gagnant, nous sommes plus favorables à des changements de fonction des revenus. C'est la raison principale pour laquelle nous croyons que le progrès technologique doit suivre son cours, malgré ses effets destructeurs à court terme sur certains. Quand d'autre part, les forces du commerce frappent à plusieurs reprises le même peuple - les moins instruits, les cols bleus - nous pouvons nous sentir moins sanguins au sujet de la globalisation.

Trop d'économistes sont sourds à de telles distinctions. Ils sont enclins à attribuer les questions sur la globalisation à des motifs protectionnistes grossiers ou à l'ignorance, même lorsque de véritables questions morales sont en jeu. En ignorant que le commerce international, parfois - certainement pas toujours - implique des résultats de redistribution que nous considérerions comme problématiques chez nous, ils échouent à aborder correctement le débat public. Ils manquent également l'occasion de monter une défense plus robuste du commerce quand des soucis moraux sont moins justifiés.

Tandis que la globalisation soulève de temps en temps des questions difficiles sur la légitimité de ses effets de redistribution, nous ne devrions pas répondre automatiquement par la restriction du commerce. Il y a beaucoup de différences difficiles à considérer, y compris des conséquences pour d'autres personnes autour du monde qui peuvent être sensiblement plus appauvries que celles qui souffrent chez nous.

Mais les démocraties doivent avoir une discussion appropriée, de sorte qu'elles fassent de tels choix consciemment et délibérément. Fétichiser la globalisation simplement parce qu'elle augmente le potentiel économique est la meilleure manière de la délégitimer à long terme.

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  1. CommentedBorko Handjiski

    I don't see why the term "procedural fairness" should be included in the debate on globalization, i.e. trade liberalization, at least not by those who support globalization. First, 90% of trade which is subject to restrictions (import duties) does not relate to products which can be described as "being produced in a procedural unfair manner". So, the discussion on trade liberalization should not be narrowed down to whether blood diamonds should be allowed to trade freely or not.

    If this terms were to be put on the table, countries like the U.S. and Western Europe have the least right to use it. Why? Because there was no procedural fairness in the depletion of natural and human resources (slavery) from what are today developing parts of the world which allowed these countries to make a leap in development using the power of the gun.

    Finally, who defines what is procedural fairness? Does the U.S. define how many hours Chinese workers should work or does China? Should the EU to Indonesia what to do with its environment? I don't think so, given that Indonesia's contribution to environmental pollution and change would be marginal to the contribution of the developed world. If Chinese workers want to work 12 hours a day, it is their right. If one disagrees, then France -- that is, the EU -- should impose restrictions on trade with the U.S. because U.S. workers spend much more time at work than what is allowed under French law.

    The reasons for free global trade are same as the reasons for not imposing trade restrictions among U.S. or EU states: trade increases the pie and makes everyone better off in the long run. Keeping to this simple argument should be enough.

  2. CommentedSoren Dayton

    Of course, this isn't what happens. What happens is that the state prevents John from making $300. That's the objection. That is morally wrong and politically unsustainable.

  3. CommentedJonathan Lam

    Gamesmith94134: why fair trade?

    After the effects of “barbed-wire barriers to imports” suggested by the businessmen and union members in US or the developed nations, they should understand the nature of their present financial crisis that they lost their competitiveness by a wide margin in the global term, and eliminate the choice for its people from affordability to growth because monopoly can level off its local innovation as well. Why can’t its industries be more effective or efficient to cut cost or lower price even after they met their competitions?

    Recently in China, I saw the railways imported from US, built in China in the 20s, they are still running. It was the top of technology for US, and we have the football team name Pittsburg Steelers----one of my favorite team. When the piece of the Oakland Bridge cracked, we must import it from China since we lost our competitiveness and effectiveness to pricing to the steel industry to China.
    Pittsburg Steelers turned into an icon for American Football and industry of its own, subsequently, the township and its steel worker union had made the bureaucrats proud of the steel industry that even Americans cannot afford; but, they can complain the economists outsourcing the industries for profitability. I am not prudential in protectionism since I am not sure why people do not throw stone inside the glass house; but the greenhouse effect for labor is costly, and the consequence of protectionism is anemic to growth in all terms of all imports or exports due to the loss of local innovations or the profitability under the labor cost that industries compete both fair and unfair competitions including anti-dumping or tariffs.

    In the recent years after we reckon the deficits wrecked the developed nations, and the surpluses prospers the emerging market nations. Many suggested the zero sum fair trade that many developed nations are dumping their technologies like green industries with high prices to the emerging nations in order to create its equilibrium; however, the resistance is high since its benefits to its consumers are minimal. Therefore, I would expect the bases of its consumers must be expanded first that the low-earning labors in these nations must achieve its sustainable living standard to be benefited to the technology transfers; then, the level of consumerism should meet its need in order to create the chain reaction of the supply and demand. Perhaps, they also need education to gain control systematically through the structural developments based on the foundation of necessity and affordability. Otherwise, the ClubMed syndrome will repeat to spread throughout the emerging market nations too; and, it was how the PIIGS got affected since 92’ that tourism did not help them to produce much to the bases of consumers, instead, they were subdued by the corruption and deficits as well.

    “Mark Sidwell argues that FAIRTRADE keeps uncompetitive farmers on the land, holding back diversification and mechanization. According to Sidwell, the FAIRTRADE scheme turns developing countries into low-profit, labor-intensive agrarian ghettos, denying future generations the chance of a better life.”

    In assuring the outcome of the FAIRTRADE can be the coming generation, we must develop the appropriate system or superstructure for monitoring the process in opening the commodity markets for those developing countries. Perhaps, in order to stretch the safety net for the poor farmers or labor, I think the organizing the groups in common interest may use the cooperative system that the group of small farmers can bundle up in their corps or commodities to set their corporation to market their goods. However, I would recommend the Development Bank of the United Nations as the free agent for Fair Trade which these developments can be invested in the open markets, and the organized grower or producers can grow into corporations with co-operatives; since some of the developments may have involved with international financial system and assisted in the market system during the transactions. Also, there must be a representative for the grower and producer like Africa Union, ASEAN or EU to represent and ensure the normalcy of its productivity and transparency on the transaction of these commodities.

    “That justification will not convince economists, who prefer a dryer sort of reasoning. But it is not out of place to remind ourselves that economists and bureaucrats need not always have things their own way.”

    Finally, if we must open the bases for new consumers, we must give the poor farmer and labors a chance to taste the FAIR TRADE and move away from poverty, we must stop the monopoly and give free trade a chance; then these new consumers can save us from the present financial crisis. If we accept the fact that we do need to trade honestly and share generously among nations and countries of people; there must be a system to protect the coming generation of grower and producer and a superstructure of networks to assure everyone is applying at will.

    May the Buddha bless you?

  4. CommentedPavlos Papageorgiou

    I don't agree that objections are limited to procedural fairness. In other words, I think some outcomes are objectionable even if they are the emergent result of fair processes. For example many people in the software industry did believe that Microsoft's near-monopoly status was a problem. The issue was not that it denied income to would-be competitors of Microsoft but that it caused the market to produce less good computers than it does now under competition from Apple and others.

    Regarding world trate, I think it is urgent to see distributional effects not from the side of importers and income but from the side of exporters and goods. Suppose a village in Africa contains a farmer and a craftswoman. Under protected conditions, they trade at very low prices and sustain each other. Under free trade, the farmer trades with the west, which absorbs all his output, and the craftswoman is redundant and starves. Literally.

    Where is the discussion on the supply-side effects of free trade? There should be a guiding principle that trade that connects vastly unequal economic networks with each other is a problem, just as connecting electrical circuits at very different voltage will dissipate energy and damage them. Tariffs should be applied not on imports but on exports, to ensure local supply or else redistribute the gains so that the worse-off can find alternative supply.

  5. Portrait of Kristy Mayer

    CommentedKristy Mayer

    You asked people to think about whether or not we should restrict trade. A more useful question is if and how we can both increase opportunities for international trade and ensure better distributional outcomes. For example, the United States’ trade preferences for developing countries are conditional on a variety of policy reforms in those countries – adopting international labor standards, moving toward a market-based economy, fighting corruption, etc. – and greater preferences generally come with more extensive conditions. Trade adjustment assistance is another, domestically focused, example. Do you think these and other, similar trade agreement provisions succeed at achieving both goals? If not, are there other models that may avoid restricting trade but also mitigate the trade’s distributional effects? It would behoove the United States, and other nations, to work hard to find an effective and palatable alternative to the binary restrict-or-don’t-restrict-trade decision.

    1. Portrait of Dylan Matthews

      CommentedDylan Matthews

      Kristy's point is a good one. Rodrik is quite right that the economic benefits of trade are unevenly distributed, and that the policy regime favored by the United States in recent years has done little to counteract the resulting increase in inequality. But it does not follow that trade liberalization is bad policy. It may follow that trade liberalization *without redistributive programs* to spread the gains more evenly is bad policy, but that is a different thing altogether. Most Scandinavian countries have arrived at regimes with very few trade restrictions but massively redistributive tax and social welfare systems, which avoid most of the maladies of trade that Rodrik identifies without sacrificing the gains.

  6. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

    The developed world unfortunately is the biggest blind alley to protectionism when it comes to furthering free trade in agriculture and farm products, that leave billions in the under-developed and the developing world under-nourished simply because the subsidies that are doled out to protect the rich farmers come in the way of free trade to happen. This asymmetry is striking that the majority of the world’s poor would have gained as their reliance on farm products as source of income is one over-riding measure that is stunted by the veiled interference of an unfair policy that do not allow trade to happen although there is comparative advantage existing; John Rawl’s 'veiled ignorance' in this case seems to further the self-interests of a whopping minority.

    Procyon Mukherjee

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