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Keep on Truckin’ With Economics

Standing in line a few minutes ago at the Whole Foods Market at Fair Lakes in Fairfax I had the following conversation with the voluble guy standing behind me:

Guy: Didn’t I see you on the George Mason campus?

Me: Yep. I teach there.

Guy: I’m taking some classes there in political science.

Me: Good luck to you.

Guy: What do you teach?

Me: Economics

Guy: Oh that’s great. We need new thinking in economics. Globalization is destroying too many jobs.

Me: Well, I don’t disagree that economics can be improved, but any economics that concludes that globalization is destroying jobs would be lousy economics.

This gentleman and I had a friendly yet spirited discussion about trade that lasted for about ten minutes. Neither of us persuaded the other. But near the end of this conversation I learned that my new acquaintance had worked in the past as a lobbyist for some trucking organization. Among his duties was to make the case in Washington that double-trailer trucks are acceptable for use on American highways and roads.

Me: Do you believe in what you lobbied for?

Guy: Of course I did, and I still do! [Exclamation original.]

Me: I too see nothing wrong with double-trailer trucks. But I’m surprised that you see nothing wrong with them.

Guy [looking befuddled]: Why?

Me: Well, compared to single-trailer trucks, double-trailer trucks destroy trucking jobs. With one tractor being able to pull twice the load of a single-trailer truck, there are fewer jobs for truck drivers.

Guy: But double-trailer trucks are far more efficient overall than single-trailer trucks.

Me: I don’t doubt it. But double-trailer trucks still reduce jobs for truck drivers. So don’t you see that your support for double-trailer trucks is inconsistent with your opposition to free trade. Like double-trailer trucks, free trade is simply a technique for producing more output using fewer inputs – that is, producing goods and services more efficiently. If you oppose free trade because it destroys particular jobs, then you should with no less earnestness oppose double-trailer trucks, for these, too, destroy particular jobs. In fact, you should oppose all trucks and lobby for the use of horse-drawn carriages. The latter would bring back all sorts of jobs that existed in the past, from farriers to carriage-makers.

Guy [and I quote verbatim]: There’s a reason that I never liked economics. [He did not say this pleasantly; he was unhappy with our conversation.]

We politely said good-bye.


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