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Free Trade Increases Economic Growth



(p. 3) When President Trump imposed tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, I was reminded of a line from George Orwell: "We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."

. . . , my subject is economics, and to most people in my field, the benefits of an unfettered system of world trade are obvious.


. . .


. . . , economists have emphasized how trade affects productivity. In a model pioneered by my Harvard colleague Marc Melitz, when a nation opens up to international trade, the most productive firms expand their markets, while the least productive are forced out by increased competition. As resources move from the least to the most productive firms, overall productivity rises.


. . .

A skeptic might say that all this is just theory. Where's the evidence?

One approach to answering this question is to examine whether countries that are open to trade enjoy greater prosperity. In a 1995 paper, the economists Jeffrey D. Sachs and Andrew Warner studied a large sample of nations and found that open economies grew significantly faster than closed ones.


. . .


Trade restrictions often accompany other government policies that interfere with markets. Perhaps these other policies, rather than trade restrictions, impede growth.

To address this problem, a third approach to measuring the effects of trade, proposed by the economists Jeffrey A. Frankel of Harvard and David C. Romer of the University of California, Berkeley, focuses on geography. Some countries trade less because of geographic disadvantages.

For example, New Zealand is disadvantaged compared with Belgium because it is farther from other populous countries. Similarly, landlocked nations are disadvantaged compared with nations with their own seaports. Because these geographic characteristics are correlated with trade, but arguably uncorrelated with other determinants of prosperity, they can be used to separate the impact of trade on national income from other confounding factors.

After analyzing the data, Mr. Frankel and Mr. Romer concluded that "a rise of one percentage point in the ratio of trade to G.D.P. increases income per person by at least one-half percent."



For the full commentary, see:

N. GREGORY MANKIW. ''Economic View; Reviewing the Tenets of Free Trade." The New York Times, SundayBusiness Section (Sun., February 18, 2018): 3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date FEB. 16, 2018, and has the title ''Economic View; Why Economists Are Worried About International Trade.")


The Melitz article mentioned above, is:

Melitz, Marc. "The Impact of Trade on Intra-Industry Reallocations and Aggregate Industry Productivity." Econometrica 71, no. 6 (Nov. 2003): 1695-1725.


The Sachs and Warner article mentioned above, is:

Sachs, Jeffrey D., and Andrew Warner. "Economic Reform and the Process of Global Integration " Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 26, no. 1 (1995 ): 1-95.


The Frankel and Romer article mentioned above, is:

Frankel, Jeffrey A., and David H. Romer. "Does Trade Cause Growth?" American Economic Review 89, no. 3 (June 1999): 379-99.






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