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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Roberts on NAFTA

Russell Roberts discusses his answers to a reporter about NAFTA:
My view of the world is that when we widen the ability of our fellow citizens and ourselves to trade with people other than just our own kind or nationality or religion or color, that that in turn allows trade to take place more productively. That in turn creates wealth, a higher standard of living. And that in turn creates new opportunities for employment that come along and replace the old.

This view of the world is supported by logic and lots of empirical evidence. But again, it's not the empirical evidence of an overarching kind that let's me evaluate one corner of increased specialization, say the overall impact of NAFTA.

When I told the reporter that the net job loss numbers of the EPI are meaningless because they miss many of the jobs that are created, he said, so tell me where to look for those new jobs. And again, I had to disappoint him. I said that I couldn't tell him where to look.


Because when we trade more with each other and use our limited resources more effectively, two kinds of new opportunities get created. We take the wealth and resources that have been freed up by more efficient trade (or the same effect when productivity increases) and we use those extra resources to produce more of what we like and to get some new stuff we couldn't have had before. And yes, we also get an expansion of export-related jobs.

But the export-related jobs can't capture all the job gains from having a more effective use of our skills and time and energy that comes from trading more widely. Especially if you run a trade deficit. That means that a lot of the new jobs that are going to be created aren't going to have anything to do with trade. Just like finding ways to make steel with fewer people and more machines leads to new jobs in the steel-machinery making business but in lots of other industries that you can't identify, that come from people being able to spend less on steel and having more resources to spend on other things.

So I can't tell the reporter where to look. He has to look everywhere. It doesn't make for a very good feature story.
Consider the entire post by Roberts an assigned reading for the course. You should probably check out his link at the end of his post


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