The divergence between economists’ beliefs and those of (even well-educated) men and women on the street seems to arise in making the leap from individuals to nations. In running our personal affairs, virtually all of us exploit the advantages of free trade and comparative advantage without thinking twice. For example, many of us have our shirts laundered at professional cleaners rather than wash and iron them ourselves. Anyone who advised us to “protect” ourselves from the “unfair competition” of low-paid laundry workers by doing our own wash would be thought looney. Common sense tells us to make use of companies that specialize in such work, paying them with money we earn doing something we do better. We understand intuitively that cutting ourselves off from specialists can only lower our standard of living.
Adam Smith’s insight was that precisely the same logic applies to nations.
DBx: Exactly so. By crossing political borders, trade neither loses any of the advantages that all of its parties stand to capture nor creates problems (and “problems”) that do not arise also from purely domestic trade.