Jack D Ripper wrote: ↑
November 16th, 2020, 8:03 pm
Nonsense. It is precisely those who do plunder who benefit most from free trade. If one country has a higher minimum wage, actual requirements for job safety, and environmental regulations, the manufacturer in that country is at a disadvantage when competing with a company in another country without those requirements, that pays poorly (or uses slave labor), does not spend anything on safety equipment, and does not have to curtail pollution. The company that is most oppressive and damaging to the environment is the one that wins in a free trade situation, because their costs are lower and consequently they can sell the same things for less.
So, the idea that free trade is good for everyone is moronic.
Actually I agree with the thrust of your comment above, if not all the details. My claim that free trade is "good for everyone who does not seek to support themselves by plunder" was a gloss, a hasty response to question tangential to the discussion then underway. On its face it is contrary to another claim I've made several times, namely, that no public policy is ever good for everyone in a society.
The merits of free trade have been debated by economists and philosophers continuously at least since the publication of The Wealth of Nations.
For most of that history the arguments have concerned the economic
advantages/disadvantages of free trade --- whether the people of a country would be economically better off by allowing them to buy goods from any source, foreign or domestic, and to sell their own goods to any willing buyers, foreign or domestic. Among economists that question is largely settled, in favor of free trade:
"The literature analysing the economics of free trade is rich. Economists have done extensive work on the theoretical and empirical effects of free trade. Although it creates winners and losers, the broad consensus among economists is that free trade provides a net gain for society. In a 2006 survey of American economists (83 responders), '87.5% agree that the U.S. should eliminate remaining tariffs and other barriers to trade' and '90.1% disagree with the suggestion that the U.S. should restrict employers from outsourcing work to foreign countries.'
"Quoting Harvard economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw, 'few propositions command as much consensus among professional economists as that open world trade increases economic growth and raises living standards.' In a survey of leading economists, none disagreed with the notion that 'freer trade improves productive efficiency and offers consumers better choices, and in the long run these gains are much larger than any effects on employment.'"
Historically, the principle aim of trade restrictions was protectionism --- to protect domestic industries from foreign competition, and thus the profits and employment those industries generated. Governments, at the behest of the affected industries, attempted to deliver that protection by imposing taiffs and quotas on many imported goods. That, of course, provoked retailatory restrictions in the targeted countries on import of American goods. So consumers of those goods in all the affected countries were forced to pay more for those goods than they would in a free market, and therefore endure a lower standard of living. In the early US one of the chief motivations for replacing the original Articles of Confederation with a new constitution was to eliminate the trade barriers the States had erected against import of goods produced in other States. Per the new Constitution interstate commerce could be regulated only by Congress. State-imposed protectionist trade barriers went away; the US became one national market.
But many of the objections to free trade that have been raised in recent decades don't rest on economic grounds, but on moral ones. In general moral considerations trump economic ones, and I agree that some restrictions on international trade can be justified on moral grounds, just as can restrictions on some forms of domestic commerce, such as sale of various types of contraband, sale of stolen property, sale of various products that pose some sort of danger to buyers or third parties, etc. I would agree, for example, that goods produced with slave labor should not be allowed to enter the US market, or more generally, any goods whose production involves some egregious violation of human rights.
But all of the other grounds you cite for restricting trade --- minimum wage differences, job safety standards, environmental laws, do not involve any violations of human rights and cannot be justified on any compelling moral grounds. Governments have no business dictating minimum wages in the first place. Job safety standards are matters for employers and employees to establish through negotiation. Environmental constraints are matters for the people in the employers' communities to decide upon; it is not a decision for self-righteous, despotic do-gooders in the US. Indeed, one advantage of free trade is that it reveals the costs of some of those domestic policies.
So I grant that my original claim was careless, too broad. But the justifiable grounds for restricting trade are few.