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The Real Problem with Free Trade

Even if free trade is ultimately broadly beneficial, the fact remains that as trade has become freer, inequality has worsened. One major reason for this is that current global trade rules have enabled a few large firms to capture an ever-larger share of value-added, at a massive cost to economies, workers, and the environment.

NEW DELHI – For most critics of globalization, trade is the villain, responsible for deepening inequality and rising economic insecurity among workers. This is the logic driving support for US President Donald Trump’s escalating tariffs. Why, then, does the message resonate far beyond the United States, and even the advanced economies, to include workers in many of the developing countries that are typically portrayed as globalization’s main beneficiaries?

Free trade is hardly the only – or even primary – source of inequality and insecurity worldwide. Surprisingly, one enduring problem that provokes far less popular backlash is that finance continues to dominate the world economy, generating substantial instability and mounting risks like those that led to the 2008 global financial crisis.

Moreover, some countries continue to pursue fiscal austerity, instead of consolidating their budgets by, say, addressing large-scale tax avoidance and evasion by major companies and wealthy individuals. And labor-saving innovations continue to be developed and deployed, producing “technological unemployment” among some groups.

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