Skip to main content

Free Trade and Costly Love

The argument for free trade is an argument for welfare, but welfare defined exclusively in terms of money. The trouble is that the more we start to think of our welfare in terms of money, the more likely we are to regard spending time with friends or making love as an “opportunity cost.”

LONDON – The World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference in Bali in December produced a modest package of encouragements to global trade. More broadly, the WTO’s multilateral approach has shown its worth by preventing a massive increase in trade barriers, unlike in 1929-1930, when protectionism helped deepen and broaden the Great Depression. But the main question – whether globalization is a good thing, and for whom – remains unanswered.

The essence of globalization – free trade – rests on the theory of comparative advantage, which views international trade as profitable even for a country that can produce every commodity more cheaply (in terms of labor or all resources) than any other country.

The textbook example given by the Nobel laureate Paul Samuelson is that of a town’s best lawyer who is also its best typist. Provided that he is better at law than at typing, he should specialize in law and leave his secretary to do the typing. That way, both of their earnings will be higher.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/XQEUgTI;
  1. benami154_Yousef MasoudSOPA ImagesLightRocket via Getty Images_palestine Yousef Masoud/SOPA IMAGES/LightRocket via Getty Images

    Forgetting Palestine

    Shlomo Ben-Ami

    The two-state solution is virtually dead in the water, and the international community has largely abandoned the Palestinian cause. At this point, there is little to stop Israel from cementing the one-state reality that its right-wing government has long sought, regardless of whether that leads to a permanent civil war.

  2. sachs313_SebastionBozonAFPGettyImages_EUflagtrump Sebastion Bozon/AFP/Getty Images

    Europe Must Oppose Trump

    Jeffrey D. Sachs

    European leaders should recognize that a significant majority of Americans reject Trump’s malignant narcissism. By opposing Trump and defending the international rule of law, Europeans and Americans together can strengthen world peace and transatlantic amity for generations to come.

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions