Kevin Drum links to Dani Rodrik, who points out the well-understood but generally little-known fact that even in a world where there was zero tariffs, the economic benefit to the United States would be small -- 0.1% of GDP according to his figures. This is something that I've heard plenty of critical economists say before -- James Galbraith was practically shouting it from the rooftops for a while -- but it deserves to be said, over and over: the benefits of "globalization", while real, are also small. Certainly, there's any number of policies we could pursue that would add a marginal 0.1% of GDP every year. Hell, rapidly increasing gasoline mileage might do it. A policy of not freaking out about inflation at the Bank of Canada would definitely do it. Calming down about debt reduction could do it. We have options, is my point. And we've always had options.
But of course, that's not how this programme was sold to the public. Thatcher's mantra from the outset was, in fact, "there is no alternative." Reagan and Mulroney said pretty much the same, and Chretien/Martin made it in to a spending-cutting fetish. We had to pursue a programme of layoffs, deindustrialization, and union-busting (not to mention social program cuts) here in North America because it was the only way. And if it was the only way, then we didn't need to waste a lot of time on empathy for the people that got trampled. So instead of extending a helping hand, we did the opposite -- cutting what welfare programs existed in Canada and increasing the ranks of the homeless. Yay for us.
We could have done things a different way sine the mid-1970s. We didn't, fine. And a lot of the transition has been unquestionably good, no doubt. A world in which India and China have a better chance of getting, being, and staying rich is a world I want to live in. But the column by Alan Blinder that made me so angry has very little to do with any of that, and really has to do with a very simple question: who do we help when global trade threatens their livelihood? For Alan Blinder, the answer is: professionals, who already make up the wealthiest half of society and are best prepared to survive without any help whatsoever. The correct answer -- the humane answer -- I think is exactly the opposite: you help the people who can't help themselves: the poor, the working class, and the people who's lives didn't prepare them for the kind of new jobs they'd have to learn.
After decades of us refusing to help those in dire need, Blinder wants us to turn around and rush to the aid of people who don't need it, but who are pretty certain to get it because they're far more influential than the people who deserve it. It's basically the ugly class division of North American society laid bare.