Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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I paraocchi del libero scambio

CAMBRIDGE – Recentemente sono stato invitato da due colleghi di Harvard ad intervenire come ospite al loro corso sulla globalizzazione. “Devo dirti”, mi ha avvisato uno di loro prima della lezione, “che ti troverai di fronte a dei sostenitori della globalizzazione”. Nel primo incontro aveva infatti chiesto agli studenti quanti di loro preferivano il libero scambio alle restrizioni sulle importazioni e più del 90% aveva confermato la preferenza per il libero scambio. E questo ancor prima che avessero avuto alcuna lezione sulle meraviglie dei vantaggi comparati!

Sappiamo che quando viene posta la stessa domanda nei sondaggi reali con campioni rappresentativi, che non sono costituiti solo da studenti di Harvard, il risultato è ben diverso. Negli Stati Uniti, gli intervistati preferiscono infatti le restrizioni al commercio con un margine di 2 a 1. Ma la risposta degli studenti di Harvard non è stata del tutto sorprendente. Gli intervistati altamente specializzati e con un’educazione più elevata tendono infatti ad essere più a favore del libero scambio rispetto agli operai. Forse gli studenti di Harvard stavano semplicemente esprimendo la loro preferenza con i loro (futuri) portafogli in testa.

O forse non avevano ben capito come funziona realmente lo scambio. Dopotutto, quando li ho incontrati, ho posto loro la stessa domanda ma in forma diversa, enfatizzando i probabili effetti distribuzionali del commercio e questa volta il consenso a favore del libero scambio è svanito più rapidamente di quanto mi aspettassi.

Ho iniziato la lezione chiedendo agli studenti se mi permettevano di fare un esperimento particolare. Ho preso due volontari, Nicholas e John, e ho detto loro che sarei stato capace di far sparire per magia 200 dollari dal conto corrente di Nicholas mettendone invece 300 sul conto di John. Questa prodezza di ingegneria sociale avrebbe invece lasciato alla classe intera 100 dollari in più. Ho chiesto se mi era concesso fare questo trucco.

Solo una minoranza degli studenti ha optato per il sì, molti sono rimasti incerti ed un numero maggiore si è invece opposto.

Evidentemente, gli studenti si sono trovati in una posizione scomoda nel dover consentire una ridistribuzione consistente del reddito, anche se la torta economica sarebbe aumentata. Ho chiesto come era possibile che quasi tutti loro fossero istintivamente a favore del libero scambio che implica una ridistribuzione simile, anzi più significativa, dai perdenti ai vincenti e mi è sembrato che ne fossero rimasti sorpresi.

Ho continuato chiedendo loro di supporre che Nicholas e John fossero proprietari di due piccole imprese in competizione tra di loro e che John avesse ottenuto un profitto pari a 300 dollari per aver lavorato più duramente, risparmiato e investito di più e per aver creato dei prodotti migliori spingendo Nicholas ad uscire dal business e causandogli una perdita di 200 dollari. Ho chiesto quanti studenti avrebbero approvato un contesto simile. Questa volta, in effetti, la maggior parte ha optato per il sì, o meglio tutti tranne Nicholas!

Ho poi avanzato altre ipotesi direttamente legate al commercio internazionale dicendo loro di supporre che John avesse spinto Nicholas ad uscire dal business importando prodotti di maggiore qualità dalla Germania, dando in appalto alcuni servizi in Cina dove i diritti dei lavoratori non sono protetti e facendo lavorare i bambini in Indonesia. Il sostegno a questo contesto è sceso in corrispondenza di ciascuna di queste alternative.

Siamo poi passati all’innovazione tecnologica che, come il commercio, spesso finisce per impoverire alcune persone. In questo caso, solo pochi studenti erano d’accordo sul bloccare il progresso tecnologico. Vietare la lampadina perchè chi fa le candele rimarrebbe senza lavoro è sembrata quasi a tutti un’idea poco sensata.

Gli studenti non erano quindi necessariamente contro la ridistribuzione, ma contro alcuni tipi di ridistribuzione. Come molti di noi ci tengono all’equità nelle procedure.

Per esprimere dei giudizi sui risultati della ridistribuzione, dobbiamo conoscere le circostanze che l’hanno determinata. Non proviamo risentimento nei confronti di Bill Gates o Warren Buffett per i loro milioni di dollari, anche se alcuni dei loro rivali hanno sofferto nel loro percorso, probabilmente perchè loro stessi ed i loro competitori agiscono in conformità con le regole fondamentali e si trovano di fronte più o meno alle stesse opportunità ed agli stessi ostacoli.

La penseremmo diversamente se Gates e Buffett non si fossero arricchiti con il loro sudore e la loro ispirazione, bensì imbrogliando, aggirando le leggi del lavoro, danneggiando l’ambiente o approfittando dei sussidi statali stranieri. Se non accettiamo la ridistribuzione che viola dei codici morali ampiamente condivisi nei nostri paesi, perchè dovremmo accettarla solo quando è applicata a transazioni oltre i confini politici?

Allo stesso modo, quando ci aspettiamo che gli effetti della ridistribuzione vengano parificati nel lungo termine tanto da garantire ad ogni individuo dei vantaggi, tenderemo a trascurare la ridistribuzione del reddito. Si tratta di un aspetto chiave su cui si basa la convinzione che il progresso tecnologico debba proseguire nonostante gli effetti devastanti a breve termine su alcuni individui. Quando, per contro, le forze del commercio continuano a colpire le stesse persone, ovvero chi ha un livello inferiore di istruzione oppure gli operai, potremmo finire per sentirci meno fiduciosi nei confronti della globalizzazione.

Troppi economisti rimangono indifferenti di fronte a queste distinzioni e tendono ad attribuire le preoccupazioni per la globalizzazione a motivi protezionistici grossolani o all’ignoranza anche quando sono in gioco questioni puramente etiche. Ignorando il fatto che a volte, sicuramente non sempre, il commercio internazionale comporta dei risvolti della ridistribuzione che considereremmo problematici nel nostro paese, gli economisti non si confrontano in modo adeguato con il dibattito pubblico e perdono l’occasione di prendere le difese del libero scambio anche nei casi in cui le preoccupazioni etiche sono meno giustificate.

Se da un lato la globalizzazione solleva a volte questioni difficili sulla legittimità dei suoi effetti ridistributivi, dall’altro non si dovrebbe rispondere automaticamente con delle restrizioni sul commercio. Ci sono molti compromessi difficili da considerare, tra cui le conseguenze per coloro che nel resto del mondo potrebbero finire in uno stato di indigenza peggiore di chi viene colpito invece nei nostri paesi.

Le democrazie devono a loro stesse un dibattito vero e proprio per poter fare le loro scelte con coscienza e prudenza. Idolatrare la globalizzazione solo perchè aumenta la torta economica è il modo più sicuro per delegittimarla nel lungo termine.

Dani Rodrik, professore di economia politica internazionale presso l’Università di Harvard, è autore di The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy (Il paradosso della globalizzazione: la democrazia ed il futuro dell’economia mondiale, ndt).

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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.

      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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