Joseph Stiglitz, in Globalization and Its Discontents, was definitely on to something when he criticized developed countries for preaching liberalization of trade and then hypocritically sheltering themselves behinds walls of protectionism. Developed countries subsidize certain goods – think of agricultural subsidies in America – to crowd out foreign competition, or they can enact tariffs that make foreign goods more expensive and have the foreign goods effectively lose their comparative advantage.

President Obama recently practiced such hypocrisy by enacting a 35% tariff on low-grade Chinese car tires. As The Economist points out,

The number of jobs affected is barely a rounding error in measurements of the mighty American workforce…But in geopolitical terms, it is a whopper.

I shant go into much obvious detail about the actual net job gains from free trade, so I’ll elaborate on the second point of The Economist’s point: the political consequences.

The infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was passed in the midst of the Great Depression in an attempt to revive the American workforce. Accepted economic wisdom regarding Smoot is that it not only didn’t solve unemployment, it made it worse. The same situation could occur with this tariff on tires. China could start a trade war and impose tariffs on American goods. Suddenly, one retaliation leads to another and the walls of inefficient protectionism begin to grow larger.

The possible trade war is also accompanied by the increasingly hypocritical reputation of America in terms of trade liberalization. Why would anyone listen to American recommendations for free trade when they don’t practice it themselves? Whatever happened to Obama’s cry of restoring America’s credibility around the world?

Several news sources have pointed to political pressure from the United Steelworkers Union in order to get support for healthcare reform, but I haven’t seen any concrete evidence for that so I won’t believe it just yet.

Obama should be calling on all countries to lower trade barriers. But he’s got to practice what he preaches.

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I finished Joseph Stiglitz‘s Globalization and Its Discontents. In Stiglitz’s words, it argued that:

The Problem is not with globalization, but with how it has been managed.

Here are the thoughts I jotted down while reading it (yes, there are a lot of them):

  • Stiglitz acknowledges the benefits of privitization and how, when necessary criteria are met regarding property rights and good government, private firms operate better than government.
  • The IMF ruins capital by controlling the money supply.
  • Rich countries practice hypocritical protectionism by using things like the IMF to make developing countries lower trade barriers while not doing so themselves. I couldn’t agree more.
  • His claims supporting the “infant industry argument” aren’t too compelling.
  • “The reason that Wal-Mart is successful is that it provides goods to consumers at lower prices.”
  • Believes the invisble hand doesn’t exist because the critera implied by it – perfect information, perfect competition – aren’t there. But he fails to explain why market economies are better at dispersing resources than centrally planned ones. In other words, he doesn’t disprove Hayek’s theory of spontaneous order.
  • He blames a lot of the East Asian Crisis of the 90’s on currency speculators. I am very suspicious of this.
  • Stiglitz met with Chinese government officials to discuss their transition to a market economy. No one (rightly) ever accuses Stiglitz of being an aid to the Tianeman Square Massacre. But for some reason Naomi Klein accused Milton Friedman of being complacent to Pinochet’s human rights violations because Friedman had a 40 minute meeting with Pinochet’s advisors. Naomi Klein is such an idiot.
  • Stiglitz thought that Alan Greenspan cared too much about inflation. This book was written in 2001, before the current economic crisis. Most people now accuse Greenspan of letting a huge bubble be created by extremely loose monetary policy. I just thought that was interesting.
  • His recommendation for a “gradual” approach to the market-oriented reforms in poor countries: “Development encompasses not just resources and capital but a transformation of society.” I think this can be applied to Iraq –  we can’t force our values on countries.
  • People getting richer helps the environment.
  • Makes a case in the “Way Ahead” chapter for preserving local cultures. I disagree tremendously. I think that as long as cultural change is caused by voluntary actions, whatever happens shouldn’t be altered. (If Japan suddenly only had American food because that’s what the consumer demand was, why is that bad?)

Stiglitz’s book was pretty good in convincing me that the IMF and World Bank are counter-productive. But I’m excited to hear some rebuttals to his other ideas about globalization from Jagdish Bhagwati’s In Defense of Globalization, which I’ll read next.

Anyone who has read Globalization and Its Discontents is encouraged to criticize the points I made or add their two cents in the comment section below.