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Who Can Speak about Trade?

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Dan Drezner recently reported [2] that readers hostile to his pro-free-trade position often kindly respond by expressing their wish that his job be outsourced.

The idea motivating such a response to those of us who defend free trade is that people who discuss trade are blinded by their personal experiences, unable to see the larger picture. Because Drezner is a college professor and, it is assumed, relatively secure in his job, he cannot speak with any legitimacy about trade and the job losses that it causes other people.

This idea is specious. To see why, note what happens when you turn it around: arguments for protectionism are invalid if offered by someone whose job is threatened by foreign competition. So anyone whose job is at significant risk because of free trade has no right (this idea implies) to oppose free trade, for he or she is blinded by personal experience.

Of course, an argument’s validity or invalidity is independent of the identity of the person offering it. Judged on its merits – on its logic and facts – the case for free trade is robust. If protectionists wish to be taken seriously, they’d best abandon tawdry irrelevancies and instead offer rational arguments backed by sound data.

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