Posts Tagged ‘trade’

Sirota Illustrates the Folly of Populism

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

I had a feeling I was going to see this chart at Open Left sooner or later:

On the issue at hand here, trade, I’m rather ambivalent. I’m pretty much a “free trader,” but at the same time I’d like to use our economic position to leverage our trading partners into improving their labor, environmental, and quality control standards. We’ve certainly been to lax with China in this regard. So take that for what it’s worth.

On the other hand, this graph really should, once and for all, demolish the idea that the populace is all that in tune with political issues, or has some inherent wisdom at gauging these things. Indeed, it proves thatthe movement among the masses is largely based on raw emotion. You see, for example, that when the economy was roaring in the mid and late 1990’s, free trade was extremely popular. And that makes sense; it meant cheap goods made in other countries, and let you buy a lot more stuff to clutter up your house. And with things moving a long at an historically good pace, no one was really worried about much of anything. But when the economy starts to come down, so do people’s opinion of trade. Now people are losing their job, and blaming “outsourcing,” which means more people are worried about outsourcing, on top of just being more stressed out in general. This makes trade a much more unappealing notion, and increases protectionist sentiment.

And without passing judgment on which side of the question is right, this is highly irrational behavior. And irrationalĀ behavior is a bad bet to hitch your fortunes to. It can be harnessed in the short term if you wish, but once the worm turns, what are yoy going to do? What is Sirota going to do when the economy recovers and “trade” is overwhelmingly popular again? Not only can he not cite populist opinion anymore, he can’t justify his own position once he’s accepted the notion that that is the basis of wisdom.