Channeling Krugman

Paul Krugman had a very interesting blog post about trade yesterday. Here’s some of what he said (but it’s definitely worth reading in full):

Much of the elite defense of globalization is basically dishonest: false claims of inevitability, scare tactics (protectionism causes depressions!), vastly exaggerated claims for the benefits of trade liberalization…, hand-waving away the large distributional effects that are what standard models actually predict…The conventional case for trade liberalization relies on the assertion that the government could redistribute income to ensure that everyone wins…But it is fair to say that the case for more trade agreements…is very, very weak.

I sent the copyedited draft of my forthcoming book, We Wanted Workers, back to Norton a couple of weeks ago, and I couldn’t help but have a feeling of déjà vu as I read Krugman’s take on the elite argument for free trade. Sections of my book, particularly the policy discussion in the final chapter entitled Who Are You Rooting For? read just like Krugman’s post–except I need to change a word here and there. Here’s my rewriting, where I’ve underlined my changes:

Much of the elite defense of immigration is basically dishonest: false claims of inevitability, scare tactics (if you disagree, you are a racist or a xenophobe), vastly exaggerated claims for the benefits from immigration,…hand-waving away the large distributional effects that are what standard models actually predict…The conventional case for more immigration relies on the assertion that the government could redistribute income to ensure that everyone wins…But it is fair to say that the case for more immigration…is very, very weak.

We are living in interesting times indeed.

UPDATE: Some people seem to have totally missed the point of this post and interpreted it as saying that Krugman had written something similar to what I had written. Perhaps I didn’t phrase the post carefully, but that is a completely wrong interpretation. Note that I introduce the last quote in the post as my “rewriting” of what Krugman wrote. The point I am trying to make is that the exaggerations that people make in defense of trade (and that Krugman so nicely captured) are the same as the exaggerations made in defense of immigration.

Author: George Borjas

I am a Professor of Economics and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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