Straight Talk on Trade

CAMBRIDGE – Are economists partly responsible for Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the US presidential election? Even if they may not have stopped Trump, economists would have had a greater impact on the public debate had they stuck closer to their discipline’s teaching, instead of siding with globalization’s cheerleaders.

As my book Has Globalization Gone Too Far? went to press nearly two decades ago, I approached a well-known economist to ask him if he would provide an endorsement for the back cover. I claimed in the book that, in the absence of a more concerted government response, too much globalization would deepen societal cleavages, exacerbate distributional problems, and undermine domestic social bargains – arguments that have become conventional wisdom since.

The economist demurred. He said he didn’t really disagree with any of the analysis, but worried that my book would provide “ammunition for the barbarians.” Protectionists would latch on to the book’s arguments about the downsides of globalization to provide cover for their narrow, selfish agenda.

It’s a reaction I still get from my fellow economists. One of them will hesitantly raise his hand following a talk and ask: Don’t you worry that your arguments will be abused and serve the demagogues and populists you are decrying?