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Plus ça change

Back in July of 2001 (just before I returned to the faculty of George Mason University) the New York Times published this letter of mine, which, I boast – with regret – remains relevant 17 years later.

To the Editor:

In ”Of Politics, Free Markets and Tending to Society” (Economic View, June 17) Tom Redburn said free-trade economists might overlook the plight of workers who lost their jobs to foreign competitors.

In fact, most of us economists care deeply about the plight of all workers (in addition to that of consumers). We oppose trade restrictions on, say, steel in large part because we refuse to discriminate in favor of some domestic workers and against others.

Trade restraints that protect steel workers threaten the livelihoods of other domestic workers whose jobs depend on imported steel or on the health of other industries supported generally by imports.

Job loss is indeed a disagreeable — sometimes ravaging — experience. But trade restraints that protect some domestic workers from job loss unavoidably eliminate the jobs of other domestic workers. Economists see no good reason to use the political process to favor one group over another.

Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y., June 17
The writer is president of the Foundation for Economic Education